Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Mind your R’s…

Hopefully you’ve fully mastered your P’s and Q’s by now, so it’s time to move on to your R’s. The 5 R’s of zero waste to be exact. In order, these are:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

Refuse – In my opinion Refuse and Reduce go hand in hand, but the basic premise is to simply refuse anything you don’t need. Stranger thrusting leaflets at you that you’ll barely glance at before throwing them in the recycling bin – “no thanks”; do you really need the shrink wrapped broccoli that costs more than the loose broccoli sitting next to it? If you don’t need it, don’t let it into your home.

Reduce – So you’ve whittled down your shopping basket to items you definitely need, without any excess packaging, but now you need to reduce the items you do need to things you will definitely get through. For example, if you have a recipe that calls for 2 fresh lemons then buy 2 single lemons rather than 6 lemons encased in a plastic net advertising it’s 10% off – you’ll save money (even with the 10% off), won’t have 4 lemons rotting on your kitchen counter and you won’t be sending a plastic net to landfill.

Reuse – We have so much stuff these days it can often feel like our houses are more storage spaces rather than living spaces – how much of that old worn out stuff can you re-purpose? From re-gifting items to using old clothes as dust cloths and even retaining shower water to use on your garden plants (if you’re so inclined) – there are so many things we can do around the home to breathe new life into the stuff we already have instead of spending money on yet more stuff. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to hit the charity shops, like they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure – just make sure you’re buying something you definitely need! Better yet, can you borrow an item from someone else?

Recycle – The second to last option, just one step up from sending your rubbish to landfill, yet so many people think that by putting their recycling bin out every fortnight they’re doing their bit for the environment. The truth is recycling still requires a fair amount of energy, granted it’s less than what is required compared to producing items from virgin materials, but it’s not great. There is a wide range of items that can be recycled these days so make sure you check the label on any of the items that you MUST buy. However, a lot of items that get sent for recycling still ends up in a landfill for a number of reasons. There is a lot to be said about the ecological impact of the manufacture, recycling and disposal of plastic materials in particular, which will be the subject of a later post. In fact I’ll cover a whole range of topics illustrating how recycling is not the answer in due course. For now though, the message is simply that we need to address the issue further up the chain. Supermarkets and manufacturers have their role to play, but so do you… try to avoid purchasing items that require recycling or landfill disposal (that includes the packaging the item comes in).

Rot – If an item doesn’t fall into any of the other categories then it will sadly have to go to landfill where it will slowly break down over time, emit noxious gasses as it does and leach potentially harmful chemicals into the soil. As it currently stands, Brits produce enough landfill worthy waste to fill up the Royal Albert Hall in just 2 hours! The current housing shortage in the UK means many houses have been (and are being) built on former landfill sites, yet as the population grows, so too does the amount of waste we produce.

It’s easy to put our waste in the wheelie bin, roll it out to the pavement and then forget all about it once the lorry comes round to take it away, but the truth is there is no such thing as “away”. Do a quick image search for “Smokey Mountain Manila” and just know that we are responsible for that. Those images, in such stark contrast to the image at the top of this post, is what is beneath the feet of most of us – here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have a layer of soil over it, but the contents are the same.

As you can see, our current way of living simply isn’t sustainable. We all need to throw away our disposable lives and make a change towards using what we already have and only buying what we truly need. Yes, I know change is hard – I’ve been at this for almost a year now and still have changes to make, but going zero waste isn’t an overnight all-or-nothing switch, it’s about taking baby-steps in the right direction. I mean, you can take massive strides if you want to, but living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle means making lasting change. The best way to ensure success is change gradually so you barely notice the difference. Make doing the right thing a habit that you keep building on, and one day you’ll look back and be amazed at just how far you’ve come, you’ll be amazed at the way you once lived, and all the waste you threw out, back in 2017.

So there you have it, the 5 R’s of zero waste, and hopefully some food for thought. Next week I’ll cover zero waste shopping in more detail – as much as I love living in Biggleswade it can be really hard to avoid packaging waste, so I’m going to share with you some very simple shopping changes (beyond plastic bags) you can implement wherever you live. I hope you’ll join me then, but if you have any questions or comments in the meantime then please get in touch.

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