5 easy ways to reduce waste: start now!

by Vanessa Lalani
Paint cans re-used as pots for plants and hung on a wall.

I always like to start each year thinking about an intention to focus on for the next 12 months. I write this down somewhere I can see it (usually on a note that sticks to the fridge) and reflect on it. There’s been occasions where the note has made its way on to the floor only to be crumpled up and tossed somewhere never to be seen again. Usually that’s because the theme I’d chosen was fanciful or I’d never had enough conviction in it. But that’s not happening this year. This year is different because I am absolutely and unequivocally passionate about this year’s focus on 5 easy ways to reduce waste!

There are so many reasons why we all need to reduce our waste and for a run down on these important reasons read my blog: Living Sustainably: why does it matter?. But the long and short of it is that we can’t maintain our quality of life, the diversity of life on Earth or Earth’s ecosystems unless we embrace sustainable living.

So, this year I’m going to majorly focus on waste reduction and here are 5 easy ways to do this.

  1. Cut out or significantly reduce single use plastics

Nearly 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year and while most of it can be recycled, approximately 90 percent is not, with the vast majority of plastic waste accumulating in landfills and clogging our oceans, waterways and natural habitats, according to a recent study by the peer-review journal Science Advances. Plastics make up the bulk of the more than 20 million pieces of rubbish picked up from beaches and water ways.

And it’s staggering that by 2050, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish, as predicted by a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum.

Further, microplastics (tiny pieces of broken-down plastic smaller than your finger nail) are being consumed by the fish we eat. So we are literally eating our waste.

Here are some ways to cut out or significantly reduce single use plastic:

  • Say ‘no’ to plastic bags when you purchase something and use your own cloth bags instead.
  • Stop using plastic straws. Did you know that the very first plastic straw you ever used it still somewhere on planet Earth? You probably only ever used it for 10 minutes. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless-steel straw.
  • Ditch plastic cutlery and plastic plates at your next BBQ or party. Use plates that can be washed or eco-friendly plates and cutlery.
  • Remove cling wrap from your cupboard. Use beeswax wraps instead.
  • Buy boxes instead of bottles/plastic bags. For example laundry detergent in a cardboard box rather than a plastic container, pasta in a box rather than plastic packaging.
  • Use beauty products with little or no plastic packaging. I’ve started to use beauty/soap bars again instead of hand and body wash in plastic bottles and bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic. My husband has also ditched his plastic razor for an electric one.
  • Bring your own container for take out or restaurant doggy bags rather than accepting a plastic or styrofoam container.
  • Where you can access cereals, pasta and rice from bulk bins, use your own containers.
  • Make your own cleaning products or purchase ones that are less harmful for the environment and are packaged appropriately.
  1. Reuse

The idea behind ‘reuse’ is a simple one and as the name suggests, it involves refusing to use anything that has a single use. Instead, the focus is on how items can be reused time and time again. Examples include:

  • Stop buying bottled water. Fill up your own reusable water bottle and bring this with you.
  • When buying your take away coffee, bring along your own reusable coffee cup.
  • Host a clothing or book swap session with your friends.
  • Hold a good old fashion garage sale/or use online marketplaces to sell or acquire what you need.
  • Upcycling items that no longer serve their original purpose into something new.
  1. Recycle/Compost

This is the area that gets me most excited as it’s one of the easiest ways to reduce waste – that is, what gets sent to landfill. According to ABC’s War on Waste, here are some sobering stats:

  • Australia is one of thee most wasteful countries in the developed world.
  • The average Australian family throws out $3.5k worth of food every year. That’s about a tonne or 1 in 5 shopping bags full of food.
  • On average 1/3rd of household rubbish is food waste.
  • When food rots in landfill it lets off methane, which is 25 times more potent than the CO2 produced by cars.
  • If 1% of the population composted food scraps instead of throwing them in the bin, it would save 45 million kgs of CO2.
  • If global food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US.

The good news is that we can take small steps that have a big impact. Here are the ways that you can help to address the problem:

  • Adopt good recycling habits. Cardboard, paper, glass bottles and jars and some plastics can be recycled. If you’re not sure what can be recycled, check with your local council. Most Council’s will provide this detail on their websites.
  • When recycling, ensure that all recyclables are clean, dry and empty.
  • The general rule is that only items bigger than your fist can be thrown in the recycling bin because they tend to fall through the sorting machinery and end up as general waste.
  • Flatten your boxes before recycling. This will enable you to fit more into your bin, but also prevent machine blockages during the sorting process.
  • Don’t bag your recyclables before you throw them in the recycling bin. Let them roam free.
  • Recycle your soft plastics (bread, pasta, chip bags etc) through the REDcycle bins. For bin locations, check out redcycle.net.au
  • Plan your meals each week and only buy those ingredients you are going to use each week. This will stop food you haven’t consumed making its way into landfill.
  • Where you do have organic food waste compost this rather than throwing it into the bin. I know some of you might be thinking it’s just too hard, but the reality is that once you get the process down pat, you will be massively reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill each year and creating nutrient rich food for your plants, grass or veggie patch. The good news is that you can compost if you live in an apartment or a house. Check out my blog:  Easy Ways to Compost in Your Home for step by steps instructions on how to kick start this. Eden Eco Living also has a selection of products that will make recycling in your household hassle free.
  1. Make wise purchasing decisions

    I think the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’ designed by Sarah Lazorovic below sums this up perfectly. Not only is this good for the environment, but it’s great for your savings account.

    Buyerarchy off needs

  2. Grow your own food

Yeah, yeah, I hear you say. Who has time for that or the space? It’s ok to start small. Start with a small planter box or pot in your kitchen or balcony. Growing your own herbs of a few tomato plants is a great start. You can also get involved in a community or school garden. The great thing about growing your own food is that you know exactly what you’re putting into your mouth and it always tastes sweeter. I love getting my two young kids involved in the process and it’s amazing what they eat when they have grown it themselves.

So we covered off 5 easy ways to reduce waste. Which areas will you focus on? Feel free to add your comments and or questions below.

Click here for a summarised guide on the 5 easy ways to reduce waste. Print it off and stick it to your fridge as a reminder. That’s what I’ll be doing because this theme isn’t fanciful and I have loads of conviction in it.

Come and join me.

Vanessa x

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