I live in New Zealand land of Lord of the Rings and bungee jumping sheep (thanks John Oliver). This stunningly beautiful country is full of diverse people and breathtaking landscapes. Naturally this means we attract millions of tourists who want to come and see our gorgeous natural spaces, our evergreen forests and our striking mountains. Unfortunately, we seem to take this for granted. One of our biggest crimes? Solid waste, or as most of us know it - rubbish that ends up in landfill. According to the World Economic Forum in 2015 New Zealand was the developed world's biggest landfill producer. "The worldwide average is 1.2kg/capita/day. New Zealand (3.68kg), Ireland (3.58kg), Norway (2.80kg), Switzerland (2.61kg) and the United States (2.58kg) were the top five producers in the developed world." Let that sink in for a second. The amount of waste generated per capita in this country is over THREE TIMES the worldwide average.
Recently I discovered the Zero Waste and Plastic Free movements, which are people who have managed to almost completely remove rubbish from their lives. One of my favourites is this amazing woman - Lauren - who lives Zero Waste in New York. She has managed to fit all of her rubbish for two whole years into a mason jar.
Everything else that she has recycled, reused or composted. Now that is impressive. I've spoken to quite a few people since I started trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my life and two big stumbling blocks always come up - 1) Many people just don't even think about it. They have absolutely no thought about where that chocolate bar wrapper ends up, or what impact recycling a coke can instead of throwing it out will have. 2) Nobody wants to expend any extra effort. The reason we waste so much is that it's just so darn convenient. I COULD carry my own cutlery around at all times in case of impromptu takeaway lunches, but then I have to remember... and it takes up space in my bag.... and people might think I'm weird.... and I have to wash it.... Gosh it's just so hard. For every full rubbish bag that ends up in landfill, the equivalent of 71 rubbish bags worth of waste is created in mining, logging, agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and the industrial processes used to convert raw materials into finished products and packaging.
What can we do about it? How can we stop making so much waste? Well ideally we follow the 4 Rs - Reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. In that order! :) REDUCE the amount of rubbish we are buying. What, Caitlin, we don't BUY rubbish! We buy things that happen to come coated in rubbish.... But alas, my dears, every time you purchase a product you are paying for the packaging as well as the product. You make the choice to purchase product X and it's packaging over product Y and its packaging. I'm not saying this is bad, I'm saying "look at you with all your magical consumer power! Pretty please take a second to use your powers for good." And actually - we kinda do buy a fair amount of rubbish.... I probably didn't need to buy that air freshener, or a new candle in a pretty jar, or that pack of 100 glow in the dark stars that now adorn my room and make me feel like I sleep in space.... and in future I will be learning to say no. Or buying those stars second hand, and thus still sleeping in space whilst also not encouraging the production of more bits of glowing decorative plastic... So yes, in an ideal world we would only buy things we need and they'd all be package free. Bread from bakeries in reusable bags we brought from home, fruit in lovely reusable mesh baggies, and dry goods in reusable jars and containers. I'll admit that this is darn challenging. I have been trying to reduce my plastic to near zero for about half a year now and I am really struggling. For one thing, the gorgeous little city of Wellington has a very limited range in terms of package free goods. So far I have only found ONE shop where I can buy flour from bulk bins in paper baggies, and none where I can get things like baking soda in this way. I'm going to keep trying, but it definitely isn't easy. Next on our list is to REUSE. Taking the waste from products and reusing it around the place to avoid having to buy new stuff and new packaging. This one is a bit easier. It's so easy to shove a plastic shopping bag from that pile in your drawer (I know you have one) in your bag before heading to the supermarket. You still get all the convenience of not having to balance your individual tomatoes in your arms, with none of the environmental guilt of creating more demand for plastic bags. Things like glass jars just need a wash and they are ready to go as drinking vessels (great for parties because you care less about accidental breakages), vases, candle holders, planting pots, and storage for leftovers or dry goods. If in doubt - a quick google will give you thousands of ideas for ways you can reuse all kinds of rubbish. RECYCLINGis another step easier because it will hardly impact on your purchases at all. Next time you reach for your favourite products have a look for the recycling logo. If your product doesn't say it's packaging is recyclable then maybe consider an alternative brand that does. Every time you go to chuck something in the bin, take a second to check if it's recyclable. Every year kiwis throw tonnes of recyclable packaging into landfill instead of recycling it, just because they didn't think of it. By reducing our rubbish we take all of the resources and electricity used to produce a brand new one, and reduce it to the cost of cleaning and reforming the product. Still not convinced it's worth it? For every one tonne of paper recycled:
31,780 litres of water are conserved
2.5 barrels of oil are conserved
4,100 kWh of electricity is saved
For every one tonne of aluminium recycled:
13,300 kWh of electricity is saved
95% less air pollution is produced
4 tonnes of chemical product are conserved
One recycled aluminium can saves enough electricity to run a computer or a TV for three hours.
And recycling a glass jar saves enough energy to light a bulb for four hours. A tonne of PET plastic containers made with recycled plastic conserves about 7,200 kWh of electricity. That is a pretty enormous impact. Finally - ROTTING. Ewwww.... But not really, that is just the only R word that they could think of for composting, gotta keep with the themes. :) Pretty much all of the things left after you've taken the first three steps should be organic waste that can be turned back into dirt. Food scraps, dirty paper, fabric scraps, pet hair, human hair, wood chips, lint, matches, ash, undies that are more hole than fabric (and not in a sexy way), teabags, biodegradable packaging (they may look like paper but often can't actually be recycled... its a traaap), and tissues all fall in this category. So there you go, the crash course in how to make a huge difference in a few little ways. :) If you have any amazing tips and tricks for reducing waste, or if you happen to know of a place where I can get bulk products in Wellington please leave me a comment! Be free my pretties and make the world a little bit better than you found it. xo Cait