Today’s post comes courtesy of Kirsty, author of an ethical lifestyle guide called Ethics and Asthetics. This article has lots of great information about why it is so important to reduce the amount of waste that we produce and answers some important questions like, what actually happens to our rubbish when we put it into the bin?
A few weeks ago, my partner Joe and I went into Lush and asked for some advice on solid shampoos and conditioners. I mentioned that we were looking to reduce our plastic waste, and the saleswoman looked at us perplexed. For a second, I thought she was ready to ask my why. Instead, she said: “You know, you’re about the fifth person I’ve had say that to me today”.
I haven’t seen the final episode of Blue Planet II, but I have seen the impact it’s had on the world.
“Never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet – and never before have we had such power to do something about it.” – David Attenborough
Joe and I have reduced our household waste to the point where we had to buy a smaller bin, but it still isn’t enough. Even in Britain, toxic streams from landfill sites are destroying nature reserves. Whole towns are at risk of devastation.
For a long time, we thought recycling was the answer (to be clear, I am NOT saying you shouldn’t), but by far the best thing we can do is reduce our waste output in the first place.
The Dreaded Single-Use Plastic
So, what really happens to our plastic? As consumers, we buy plastic every day without a second thought. From toiletries to food to cleaning products to electricals, everything comes in plastic. Approximately one third of this is ‘recycled’, and the other two thirds are wasted to landfill or incinerated, releasing toxic fumes into our precious atmosphere.
Of the plastic that’s recycled, two thirds of it is sold or sent abroad to be processed, and there’s no guarantee that ‘processed’ means ‘recycled’. In fact, it’s likely that a lot of it is incinerated or dumped, which is one of the major ways in which plastic appears in our oceans. Thankfully, over the last couple of years this news has hit the headlines. If there’s one way to make change happen it’s to put something in the spotlight.
The other third is washed, sorted, shredded and melted to form pellets, which are sold as raw materials. Your recycled plastics can actually reappear as new packaging, bricks, road surfacing, loft insulation or car parts. (Who knew?)
When the drive to ban plastic straws and cotton buds first hit our screens, I was a bit perplexed. Compared to the tonnes and tonnes of plastic packaging wasted every day, what was the harm in a few plastic straws?
Well, firstly, the number of plastic straws consumed every year is astronomical. I can vouch for this, having worked behind a bar for four years. The number of people who will ask for a straw and use it to stir their drink, only to dump it, soggy, on the bar before walking away is startling (can I interest you in a spoon?). The number of bar managers who insisted we served a straw with every drink, even when the customer didn’t want it, was worse. Thankfully, I now work behind a strawless bar, and I don’t care how many people complain. 8.5 billion straws are thrown away every year in the UK alone. They end up down gutters, blown off the top of rubbish piles, and discarded on beaches.
Cotton buds are small enough to evade water filters and end up in the ocean after they’re flushed down toilets. Repeat: Don’t flush your cotton buds down the toilet!
If there’s one thing you cannot be excused from recycling, it is paper. You don’t need to wash it, it doesn’t go off, all you have to do is stick it in a blue box and take it out with your rubbish!
Nevertheless, almost five million tonnes of paper is sent to landfill or incinerated every year. Every Sunday, almost 90% of newspapers are thrown away in Britain, which is the equivalent of throwing half a million trees straight into landfill.
When you recycle paper, it’s sorted into ‘grades’ before being washed and mixed with water to make a ‘mush’, which is laid out into thin sheets to dry before they cut it down into new sheets of paper. The equipment at most recycling plants is even equipped to removed sticky adhesives and staples.
Some of the stranger things recycled paper and cardboard can turn into include animal bedding, road surfaces and even coffins.
Making recycled paper uses up to 60% less energy than making paper from scratch.
Tins & Cans
Recycling aluminium is the most efficiently recycled materials; the process doesn’t result in any loss of quality so it can be recycled indefinitely, and it saves an amazing 95% of the energy required to produce the same product from scratch. Don’t forget that you can recycle your tin foil, too; why use cling film when there’s a recyclable alternative?
The whole process happens quite like you’d imagine; cans are cleaned, melted down and formed into huge blocks of aluminium, which are sold and (mostly) reformed into new cans. In ideal conditions this can all happen within six weeks of them being recycled.
As well as new cans, these ‘ingots’ of aluminium reappear in some of the most unusual ways. Phones, laptops, roofing, wiring and car parts are all often made from recycled or part-recycled metals!
Being mindful of what happens to your waste is just the beginning. As soon as I started thinking about it, everything I bought came with an extra question. Living mindfully about your waste is something I write about quite passionately over on my website, Ethics & Aesthetics, and there’s much more to come.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of damage that’s already been done, and it’s about time we made a change. Make sure you read Lisa’s post on my blog, Beach Cleans: The Hidden Benefits to find out what you can do!