8 reasons why you should produce less rubbish and how you and the planet can benefit

Since the start of 2017, I’ve been on a mission to reduce the amount of waste we send to the tip/landfill. It’s not quite zero waste (which is about producing no waste whatsoever, including recycling), but it’s an important step in the right direction.

One of the things I really want to do with Girl In Awe is help you figure out how to live a more conscious, eco-friendly, and ethical lifestyle, if that’s your jam. Starting with the basics.

When I write a blog post, I sometimes forget that not everyone has read exactly what I’ve read, or even knows what the hell I’m on about. When I began working with Jasmin as my blog coach, she suggested I take some things back to absolute basics in case you lovely folk were completely beginners to some of my wafflings. I’m sorry if I bamboozled you; I kinda turn into an over-excitable puppy sometimes. I’m gonna make it up to you though. We’re gonna smash sustainable and eco-living together. Are you ready for it...? (Yeahhhh, you got the T-Swift reference.)

Today’s topic, is waste reduction and how you can benefit from it/why you should do it. Together, we’re gonna reduce the amount of crap in our general waste bins that gets send to landfill, and here’s why.

 

1. No one likes pollution

How much do you love the delicious smell coming from a landfill site when it’s mildly warm? It’s delicious, isn’t it? I used to live in a town that had a tip and my dog, you could smell it all over town on a mildly warm day. And on one of those hot, humid British summer days, you could taste it.

That smell is the stink of things breaking down (note that not everything sent to landfill will rot away). During this process, methane is created. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is even better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, which means it’s not really something we want to be creating more of than necessary. Though, some tips harness this methane for energy purposes, which is better than letting it escape into the atmosphere.

There are additional risks of soil and water pollution due to the gross, toxic soup of liquid that forms when things break down. I don’t think any one wants that to end up in local streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, and killing anything that lives in it.

While landfill sites now are fairly well regulated, old landfill sites are polluting waterways and could impact local wildlife. Experts have also warned that coastal erosion at old landfill sites could expose us and wildlife to toxic chemicals. Not cool. I did not sign up for historic rubbish coming back to fudge stuff up for us like the plot of the fourth sequel in a horror movie franchise.

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2. ‘Things’ take a lot of time, energy, and resources to make

Whatever it is you’re throwing away - that thing had to be created and packaged. We are now so far removed from manufacturing processes that 1) don’t even think about it, and 2) when we do, we probably wouldn’t have a clue how it was actually made.

Just some of the steps that might go into making a ‘thing’ might include:

  • Mining something from the Earth (which can be rife with slavery, human rights, and environmental issues)
  • A lot of water being used in the manufacturing process; clean water is a precious resource
  • Time and energy from every person involved in the entire process (again, this could be linked to slavery, human rights, and environmental issues, such as the Rana Plaza collapse)
  • Forests or grassland being cleared to grow or extract a material used in that thing
  • The use of fossil fuels; for example, plastics can be made from fossil fuels, which are a nonrenewable source

3. It’s not just about throwing less away

For me, this is an offshoot of the last post. I used to think waste reduction was about putting less things in the bin, and it is in one way. It’s also about being more conscious of what you’re buying. You learn to really research things to find out what they’re made from, how long they will last, if they can be repaired, what you need from something, or if you even really need it in the first place.  

Reducing your rubbish definitely leads to a more conscious lifestyle, and, if you want it, it can lead to a minimalist lifestyle.

 

4. Less clutter is always good

For me, living more consciously has meant having less clutter in the house. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying our house is a clutter free zone. It’s a work in progress but I’m happy knowing that anything I bring into the house is something I’m happy with, confident will last, and fulfil its purpose.

5. We all have to do our part

We all share this planet and are equally responsible for looking after it. It isn’t just about us as individuals though. It’s about us holding companies and governments accountable.

Don’t like that your favourite biscuits come in non-recyclable packaging? Tell the company how much you love to dunk those biscuits, but are so disappointed in their packaging choices. Change might be slow, but if everyone does their part it will happen.

  • Tell your local MP that you want something to be done about all the litter thrown out of car windows and into hedges.
  • Complain to your local supermarket if you can’t buy the produce you want plastic-free.

 

6. Does anyone actually enjoy going to the tip?

I can’t imagine anyone enjoying having to load a car up, fight for a parking space, not find a parking space near the bin you want, and have to haul a load of stuff down the other end of the car park to put it in the right bin.

How about we just bring less crap and things that will break easily into our homes, so the only time we do have to go to the tip is when something is legit old and past it. And even then, you might be able to rescue it; I turned some wood from an old wardrobe into two stunning hairpin leg bedside tables.

A company, and the government, is responsible for their actions the same way you or I am (whether or not they try and shirk that responsibility). By telling them that their efforts aren’t good enough and that it’s not what their customers/the public want, we encourage the kind of change we want to see. Maybe that sounds a bit ‘away with the faeries’ to you, but let’s all try it and see how it works out.

DIY Hairpin leg mid century nightstand

7. You learn new skills

Instead of throwing that broken thing away, figure out if you can fix it first. In Edinburgh, we have the Shrub Coop and Edinburgh Remakery, both of which offer ways people can learn new skills, repair, and purpose items. Maybe there's something similar near you? If not, does one of your friends or family know how to fix something?

If something can no longer be used for its original purpose, can you repurpose it? Maybe you can...

8. You can save money

Hands up who loves saving pennies? I thought so. 

There are plenty of ways to save a penny or two by reducing your waste. For example:

  • Keeping tabs on your food waste by making sure you don’t buy food that will spoil before you use it
  • Trading single-use items in for forever-use items
  • Buying something higher quality that will last, instead of you replacing it in a few months
  • Fixing something instead of replacing it

And then, you can spend those well-saved pennies for adventures, seeing your favourite band, buying The Sims 4 and proceeding to spend your spare time cleaning up after pixel people instead of cleaning your own house, or treating you and your Mum to a long day exploring record stores. 

 

I need your help!

I’m toying around with running a waste reduction challenge next year and I want to know if that’s something you’re interested in? If it is, please tell me what kind of things you’d want it to include or what kind of questions you want answering. 

As ever though, if you have any questions or suggestions, fire away and lets produce less waste! 

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Plastic washed up on Aberlady Bay, Midlothian

I bang on about my frustration with plastic all the time. It’s great but it’s also absolutely awful, so today let’s talk about why plastic is so bad.

Look around right now. How many items can you spot that contain plastic? It’s an incredibly versatile material, which is precisely how it found it’s way into our homes and lives. There are things I love that are made from plastic; my record player and records being one big thing, the cases video games come in, the Playstation itself, my camera, the keys I’m typing on right now.

Plastic makes our lives easier, especially now that it’s everywhere. While it might make life easier for us, it kind of isn’t at the same time because it’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for us. “How can my phone be so bad for the environment?” you might wonder, so let’s explore some of the reasons why plastic is so bad.

Side note: read Blood & Earth by Kevin Bales to discover other reasons why technology can be bad for the environment and people.

 

Single-use plastic pollution

Approximately 50% of plastics are made into a single-use item. What?

Single-use plastic is my biggest plastic-based frustration (it’s always fun to rate and categorise your frustrations). I’m sure Daz is beginning to dread going to the supermarket with me because it always involves a lot of “this doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic!” “Why is this non-recyclable plastic?!” “I’m writing Tesco an angry email when I get home.” Side note; I did and their response about their use of non-recyclable packaging was disappointing. They’re “working hard to make sure even more of our packaging is recyclable.”

There are few things we honestly need to use once and throw away. In fact, now that I’m trying to think about something that truly needs to be single-use, I can’t think of anything. Maybe something surgical? There is sterilising equipment, though, so? If you think of anything, I want to hear about it.

I’m not sure how we ended up putting our convenience over the well-being of ourselves, wildlife, and the planet. But it happened, and we can stop it. We don’t need single-use plastic bags. We don’t need single-use straws; if you want a straw, get a reusable glass, bamboo, or stainless steel one. We don’t need food to come in plastic containers which are non-recyclable. We very rarely need water in plastic bottles. Sure, sometimes you forget your travel bottle but we certainly don’t need to be consuming it in the quantities that we are. In 2015, Americans brought over 88 billion half-litre bottles of water. In a year. And that’s one country.

The problem with single-use plastic is that 1) it’s resource intensive to manufacture (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and 2) it’s very polluting.

Have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? I know, you probably wish you hadn’t. This is where some of our rubbish ends up, and sadly it isn’t the only garbage patch. I recently heard about a really interesting campaign between LAD Bible (yes, that LAD Bible) and Plastic Oceans Foundation. Their theory was that if they can get the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to be accepted by the UN as a country (called Trash Isles) then something will have to be done about the pollution. It’s unlikely to be accepted as a country but a brilliant way to get people talking about the issue of plastic pollution.

It doesn’t end with plastic floating around our oceans. It’s washing up on beautiful beaches and uninhabited islands. It’s affecting and killing marine animals in awful ways. Turtles inhale straws. They’re trapped, entangled, or choked by it. They eat it because they think it’s food and it blocks their digestive systems and kills them.

Sadly, that isn’t the end of the plastic pollution story either. Just when we thought we’d got rid of it, it comes back to haunt us like yet another Fast & Furious movie. If we eat animals that have consumed microplastics, we’re also eating plastic. As we discussed in my blog post about plastic in our drinking water, plastic doesn’t fully break down and ends up in our tap water. Even if you don’t eat seafood, you’re consuming plastic straight out the tap.

 

Resource-intensive to produce

We know that fossil fuels are not renewable sources of energy. If we want to talk about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we need to talk about plastic too.

Synthetic plastics can be made from fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, or natural gas. 4% of the world’s oil and gas is used as feedstock for plastic, and an extra 3 – 4% is needed to produce the energy to make it into plastic.

As well as using up to 8% of the world’s oil and gas, the extraction of these resources can be incredibly damaging to the environment. Most people remember the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. And, maybe one or two big oil spills make the news every year but that doesn’t mean they’re the only oil spills. They’re going on all the time, all over the world; we just don’t hear about all of them. They’re incredibly damaging to the environment and the effects are long-lasting.

As well as taking up non-renewable resources, plastic requires a lot of water to make. It takes 24 gallons of water to make one pound of plastic. Yes, there are other materials which require much more water to produce. Shouldn’t we be doing our best to reduce the amount of water we’re wasting wherever we can by skipping plastic as much as possible?

 

It doesn’t degrade

One of the reasons plastic is so bad is because it does not degrade. Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of itself, so it never really goes away. As evidenced by it ending up in 83% of the world’s tap water, delicious.

There is no straightforward answer to “how long does it take plastic to fully decompose?” Estimates range from 10 – 1000s of years, depending on what it is. But some scientists fear plastic never fully degrades, it just keeps breaking down into smaller pieces of itself. Maybe a plastic bag appears to have degraded after 10s of years but it doesn’t mean it’s actually gone. It will have broken down into microplastics (plastic smaller than 5mm) and could end up anywhere.

 

It doesn’t all get recycled

Ok, so perhaps you’re having similar thoughts to me a couple of years back right now; “if I’m separating my rubbish and recycling so much plastic, why is it causing such a big pollution problem?” That makes sense, right? We’re constantly told to recycle plastic so why is plastic pollution such a big deal?

  1. Not everyone recycles. Over the past month or so, when people have asked me about what I’m studying, I’ve ended up in conversations about how we’re destroying the planet. Sometimes we get to talking about rubbish and pollution, and I’m surprised that not everyone recycles. To me that seems so alien, but some people just don’t do it.
  2. Not all plastic that you recycle gets recycled. There are so many different kinds of plastic that it’s very labour intensive to separate them. When you add that to having to remove wrappers and stickers, sometimes companies can’t be bothered and it ends up in landfill. While you might have done your part for the environment, you might be being let down further down the chain.

When plastic actually does get recycled it can end up being shipped all over the world before becoming something new. That’s hardly a surprise given that I could sit here in my dressing gown right now and order something from the other side of the world in the click of a few buttons. In a week or two, I’ll end up missing the postie and have to collect it from the sweltering post office. That parcel will have travelled thousands of miles to reach me and I won’t bat an eyelid at that. If we’re being very pernickety, we’d say it’s not great that it gets shipped everywhere; adding more carbon dioxide to the planet. On the other hand, it’s great that it can be recycled.

 

Chemicals that damage our health  

It’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for wildlife, and hey, plastic is bad for us too. Some of the chemicals in plastic can be absorbed by our bodies and impact our hormones and cause health issues. It’s hard to nail down exactly which chemicals in plastics are causing which issues. However, researchers suspect the chemicals in plastics can cause a number of issues.

 

What’s the solution?

I don’t know what the solution is. Plastic is so versatile and heavily ingrained in our lifestyles; it’s hard to imagine a world without it. We don’t have to know what the end solution is to make a difference, though. We can begin by quitting single-use plastic, reducing our plastic consumption as much as possible, recycling plastic and hoping it is actually being recycled, supporting companies that use recycled plastic packaging, and using alternative materials.

Be careful with biodegradable plastics because it’s not as simple as you think. It’s easy to think all you need to do is throw it away and it will biodegrade by itself. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Certain conditions are needed for biodegradable plastic to degrade, and those conditions don’t exist in landfill sites. If they do, the plastic will end up releasing methane, which isn’t great for the environment either.

I am pretty cynical in that I don’t expect my current government to live up to my expectations of what they should be doing in regards to the environment. (Hey, they don’t live up to our expectations for the NHS so…) While I believe it’s equally up to you and me, the private sector, and our governments to make a change, I think the public have to force it in countries where the environment isn’t a priority.

What does that mean? It sounds like a lot of legwork, right? Maybe it is. And let’s be honest, we’re all so busy that we need things to be made easier for us. So, that’s where I can help. Below, I’ve got a list of a few plastic-free alternatives and some blogs I’ve found really helpful for reducing my plastic consumption.

You don’t have to make all these changes overnight. Do whatever works best for you and your life; small changes are better than no changes.

 

Plastic-free alternatives

When I first decided to reduce my plastic consumption I felt overwhelmed. So many things contain plastic, how do I start to replace those things? And what should I start with? I don’t suggest throwing everything plastic out at once; start slowly and replace things when they break.

The links below are either things I’ve used and recommend, or things I am looking to buy when I replace something.

  • Wooden toothbrushes look so much cooler than plastic toothbrushes
  • Travel mugs and water bottles instead of plastic bottles and takeaway cups
  • Wooden cutlery instead of plastic cutlery
  • Instead of disposal straws, try out glass, stainless steel, or wood
  • Metal or glass tupperware instead of plastic
  • Fabric produce bags for buying loose produce
  • Quit shaving your legs with plastic, and get a snazzy safety razor
  • Switch to wooden dish brushes
  • Avoid plastic microbeads in cosmetics – they have been banned in the UK for “rinse off” cosmetics like toothpaste and face scrub, but not “leave-on” products like makeup or sunscreen, which seems odd because that’s going to get washed off too…

 

Extra reading

If you want to read up some more, here are a few things I found really interesting while researching this blog post & things I’ve read recently

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Fruit and veg stall - zero waste

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying hard to reduce my waste significantly and move towards zero waste.

I have always strived to recycle and thought I was pretty good at living fairly sustainably. The more I learn about zero waste and being sustainable, the more I realise there’s still a lot more I can do. Daz and I certainly don’t have a zero waste household, we are slowly reducing the amount of rubbish we send to landfill though. Moving house created a whole load of rubbish and we did donate or sell whatever we could, and only send to landfill what we had to.

Rubbish and waste is something we all have in our homes and trying to reduce it can seem really daunting. We’ve been trying to move towards zero waste for a few months now, so I wanted to share some of the biggest things we’ve learned.

 

What is zero waste?

If this is the first time you’ve heard of zero waste, here’s a brief introduction for you. The basic idea is that you produce no waste. Nothing in your refuse bin. Nothing. Nada. Zero waste is bigger than not producing waste though, it’s about buying products and food with less packaging, reducing the amount of plastic and waste you bring into your home, buying more thoughtfully and so much more.

 

What our zero waste journey has taught us so far

Over the past few months we have noticed a decrease in how full our refuse bin is come collection day. Up here in Edinburgh, in addition to a general waste bin and recycling bin, they also have food waste caddys and a glass recycling box. That means our recycling bin is pretty much plastic, paper, and cans. And boy, is there a lot of plastic. Too much plastic. 

 

Packaging – y u no use eco-friendly packaging?

My biggest recycling peeve is packaging. I think Daz kind of dreads going shopping with me because I go off on a rant every time I see “not currently recyclable” on packaging. There are so many recyclable and biodegradable packaging options that I cannot comprehend why a manufacturer would choose to use something that isn’t recyclable. Actually, I can; I suspect it’s to do with money.

When it comes to skincare, cosmetics, and vegan / dairy free food items, it’s really easy to find products in minimalist and recyclable packaging. The brand is well aware of their impact on the environment and usually uses packaging which is environmentally friendly.

It’s when you come to other items or food products that aren’t associated with the environment or special dietary needs that it gets trickier. It’s not impossible, but it does mean you might have to do some research and maybe stop buying a product you loved. If that’s the case though, I would definitely recommend emailing them and asking why they’re using non-recyclable packaging. You might think that one email might not make a difference, but if enough people tell a company they aren’t buying their products because of their packaging choices they will make a change.

A Plastic Planet are running a really interesting campaign and are trying to encourage supermarkets to offer a plastic free aisle. How wonderful would that be?

 

Plastic bags – learn to juggle or forward plan

By this point, I think we can all agree that plastic bags are bad. I’m slowly getting better at remembering to take reusable bags to the supermarket with me. Daz is much better than me, and remembers to keep some in the car.

 

Chemicals & microbeads

I stopped buying products with microbeads in last year when I read about how rubbish (excuse the pun) they are for the environment and marine life. Microbeads are used in a lot of exfoliating cosmetics and are small plastic balls that are absolutely pointless because there are so many natural exfoliants, like; rice, charcoal, coffee, sugar, oats, bamboo, walnut shells, the list is very long.

Being a science student I have always enjoyed reading the ingredients list on products, and it always scares me when I see something and think “hmmm, I feel like I used that in the lab and needed to wear gloves…” The long and short of it is that harmful and unnecessary products are causing damage in two ways.

  1. Your body is absorbing all those nasties, and they’re not good for you.
  2. All those nasties are ending up in the water supply when they get washed down the drain.

I’m sure they’re also causing damage in other ways as well, such as the manufacturing process. I’ve not really had to buy many skincare products recently but when I do I’m going for natural and sustainable products. It is my goal to now only buy natural and sustainable products; which means saying “bye bye” to some LUSH stuff. Le sigh. Since the start of the year, I think the only places I’ve purchased skin / hair care and beauty products from are Holland & Barrett , 100% Pure, and Antipodes

If you want to learn more about being eco-friendly in your bathroom, check out my updated 8 tips for being more eco-friendly in the bathroom

 

Don’t just throw stuff out

While we were relocating, we noticed there are a load of things we didn’t use or need. Some of it we sold on eBay, a load of it was donated or given to friends, and what was of no use went to the tip. 

 

Forward planning

The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that I need to plan. Living in Edinburgh means we have access to a couple of stores that have bulk options – something we definitely didn’t have before. We haven’t needed to use them yet because we have so much flour, sugar, and oats, it’s ridiculous. At some point soon we’ll get through them all and I’m looking forward to bulk buying – that’s kind of sad, isn’t it?

  • By forward planning, we reduce our food waste by buying what we need and using things up.
  • I remember to take some suitable bags for putting loose produce in.
  • I can go a little out of my way to get something without packaging or with packaging that’s actually recyclable.  

 

We have a long way to go on our quest for zero waste, and maybe we won’t ever truly reach zero. We’re really happy with where we’re at so far. It was bin day a couple of days ago and our waste bin was less than half full.

If you want to cut down on your waste to landfill, here are a few blog posts that I found helpful:

 

If you’ve got any tips or want to share a useful blog post / blog, please do 🙂

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