National Recycling Day is this weekend on 14 September. What are you doing with your “waste?” Do you still have such a word in your vocabulary? At the Green Times we regard it as a dinosaur – it’s time is up. Nothing can be wasted as there are limited resources on this planet. So we can speak about resources, or materials instead. Everything should remain in a cyclical system, the way it happens in nature.
We have recently surpassed Earth Overshoot Day, August 20, which marks the date when we have depleted the planets’ supply of renewable natural resources for the year 2013, and when the planet has absorbed all the possible CO2 it can handle for this year. It would be interesting to know when we surpassed the waste overshoot day – I suspect much earlier on in the year. So now we are living in deficit.
Almost all domestic waste is recyclable
The human population stands currently at a staggering 7.3 billion, but our consumption rate suggests a population of twice that size. For a generation that gets tricked into consumerism we have to start wondering, where is all our waste going?
We have all seen horrifying images of the garbage islands, like the floating Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is twice the size of Texas. But it is not just all ‘out there.’ We reported in our previous issue that 24 000 bags of waste were collected in 3.12 km off the Strand beach in just 5 days.
In South Africa, we generate 6, 399, 007.9 tonnes of waste, or wasted resources, a year. Almost half the waste that ends up in landfills comes from our homes and could have been reused, recycled or composted at home. 21% consists of paper and packaging, 18% of household recyclables and 6% household greens.
Responsible consumer actions must ensure that all materials are processed in an environmentally friendly way:
- Firstly, when shopping it is good to ensure the packaging of your product is recyclable. So that knowledge you need to have before going shopping. What can be recycled in your area and what not? And don’t be fooled by the mobius loop (the chasing arrows with a number inside at the bottom of the container) as that sign does NOT mean the product is recyclable! It is simply a materials identification code for the plastics industry. You need to get exact instructions from your local recycler as to what materials they collect and sort to sell on to the recycling industry and what not. Armed with this knowledge, you can become a responsible shopper.
- Then it is no good if you pick an item off the shelf that is recyclable, yet you don’t ensure it is in fact collected or delivered for recycling. The onus rests on your shoulders to ensure the material stays in the loop.
- The deluge of garbage at landfills is too large to have all recyclables separated there, and by that time the recyclable material is dirty. Dirty materials cannot be recycled.
- The key is to separate and clean at the source, in your own home. First rinse off or out the food, compact the container under foot (air costs money in transportation) then pop into your special container for recycling.
- Obviously you have a special compost bin for organic waste, left-overs, peels, shells etc. Also your house dust and dirty paper. If you are not making your own compost yet, refer to our composting section [insert link] and get cracking. Call our office if you are still squeamish about this natural process and we will help you overcome your barriers. Organic waste makes up at least 50% of your domestic waste stream, so this part is not negotiable if you regard yourself as living eco at all. It contaminates the waste stream and causes leachates to leach through into the ground water beneath the landfill, as well as emitting methane gas, which is a 7 times stronger climate change gas than CO2.
- Then you might have a tiny Bad Bin – mine amounts to one plastic shopping bag per month. Try to stick to the motto – ‘non recyclables don’t enter my house.’ One does need to take a firm stand if we want to start addressing this self-destructive habit of our modern society.
Always better than recycling waste is avoiding waste in the first place – changing our shopping patterns and going into recovery from the addiction to consumerism. Living lighter is not only great for your bank balance, or your purse, but also good for the soul.
Ask yourself these questions next time before forking out that credit card:
- Do I really need that? Does a healthy life demand this purchase or am I trying to fill an emotional void by shopping?
- Is it organic, locally sourced, preferably without any packaging at all?
- Can I get this in bulk or a concentrate and so avoid lots of packaging?
- Can I get this product with less packaging? Why do we need 2 layers of packaging? In Germany 20 years ago already shoppers removed the inside bag of cereal boxes and left the box in the shop, declaring they don’t want it. Manufacturers catch on quickly if shoppers are that bold. Why are we so scared to rock the boat?
- Do you really need a plastic shopping bag for a few things and where is your alternative shopper? This is how I programmed my brain to remember to take my own cloth bag: I made a rule that if I forget it, I either carry my stuff by hand, or I purchase a new cloth bag every time. Soon this rule had healed me of the wasteful old habit of just arriving without my bag. If it affects your pocket, it’s easier to change a habit. I do take exception if a cashier offers me a plastic bag for one or two things – they should not be offering at all. I do sometimes take this up with management, who still tend to look at me as if I’m from Mars. But who cares? We need to plug away at ignorant mindsets and repeat ourselves until the penny drops. Small drops of water can erode a huge rock, so never feel helpless to change the shops you frequent.
Transform your trash!
- Fix broken things instead of just replacing them. Every product has a footprint on the earth and avoiding another purchase saves the earth.
- Donate unwanted items to Hospice shops or give to the poor. Make up Christmas boxes with all the things you don’t need.
- Up-cycling old clothing into new funky styles is great fun.
- Support those who transform trash, like Retyre Furniture
- Put egg trays aside and take along to your organic market on Saurdays
- Toilet roll insides to plant seedlings in
Here’s a list of some recyclable material:
- Metal: aluminium and steel cans – SA Metal Group
- E-waste (electronic equipment) – Desco Electronic Recyclers
- All glass, however why not re-use the jars or donate them to those who make jams etc.
- All clean paper and cardboard – fold these neatly to reduce the volume
- Plastic: bags, bottles, containers (ask you local recycler which numbers they collect)
- Light globes – these can be taken to Pick ‘n Pay
- Bread tags – collect those for wheelchairs (follow link for more information)
Do you manage your waste with the earth in mind?
By Soninke Combrinck and Elma Pollard