Waste and zero-waste living
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Waste. Something we, at Taste Before You Waste, do not like. This week’s blogpost takes a look, not just at food waste, but at all consumer waste. Learn more about waste-free living and find tips & tricks on how to reduce your personal waste.
Waste streams and their disposal
Let’s dive into the bin. What is waste? Which waste streams are there? How are each of the waste streams treated?
Waste streams are the routes that waste pass through from the source to:
- Recovery. Materials of a product are replaced so the product gets another useful purpose;
- Recycling. Converting waste into reusable materials;
- Disposal. Removing, destroying or storing waste.
In 2016, 5.0 tonnes of waste was generated per EU inhabitant (Eurostat, 2018). The EU upholds a ‘polluter pays’ principle. This means that for instance the producers of materials have to bear to cost of polluting practices at the production stage. These polluting practices may entail damage to protected species, damage to water or soil damage. By putting a price tag on polluting practices for the producer, the cost reflects in the price that the consumer eventually pays. So, indirectly the consumer also pays for pollution.
The way waste is treated varies across categories. Presently only 44 per cent of all municipal waste is recycled or composted (Multimedia Centre European Parliament, 2018). ‘Mixed ordinary waste’ has the lowest recycling rate of all the categories (15%) (Bourguignon, 2015). What is not recycled, is disposed, which unfortunately represents an enormous loss of resources, energy, land, production labour etcetera. On top of that, waste disposal management can have severe environmental impacts. Incineration, for instance, can result in the emission of air pollutants (Eurostat, 2018). EU policy is now geared towards reducing the environmental- and health related impacts of waste and improving the efficiency of resource-use. Over the longer term, policies aim at reducing the amount of waste and promoting waste as a resource: recycling!
A policy brief published the 4th of March this year reported on the need to reshape our economy towards climate-neutral and circular. This policy brief prescribes that the percentage of recycled waste should be increased up to 65 percent and the amount of waste that reaches landfills should drop to below 10 percent. Landfills are sites where waste is disposed underground or on the land. In 2016, in the EU, 45.5 percent of waste was landfilled (Eurostat, 2018). The problem with landfills is that they are often so tightly packed that all oxygen is squeezed out, causing organic waste to not compose properly. This landfilling solid waste creates carbon dioxide and methane that can seep out of landfill. Both are greenhouse gasses: they trap heat in the atmosphere which causes global warming (Themelis & Ulloa, 2006). Besides that, landfill leachate (the liquid that percolates through solid material) allows pollutants from the leachate to contaminate groundwater (Lee & Jones-Lee, 2011). So: landfills take up a lot of land and space and can cause air, water and soil pollution.
Finally, in thinking of waste stream management, plastic deserves its own paragraph. The world produces more than 300 million tons of plastic each year. The problem with plastics is that only a fraction of that is recycled: only nine percent of the global production (Geyer, Jambeck & Lavender, 2017). 12 percent of that is incinerated, and 79 percent ends up in landfills or the natural environment. To paint a picture for you: think of one large garbage truck full of plastic that every minute of everyday, dumps its entire holding capacity into the ocean (UN, 2017). If our waste management strategies remain unchanged, by 2050 about 12.000 metric tons of plastic will be in landfills and our natural environment.
The consumer as part of the solution
Unnecessary packaging, unclear or absent waste separation systems or malfunctioning waste management are major contributors to the pollution of our natural environment. These take place on the macro level: institutions decide for the consumer. However, as a consumer you have more power than you think! So let’s consider the role that us individuals have in creating positive impact. And this is where a zero waste lifestyle enters the stage! A great contributor of keeping matter out of landfill is to keep trash out of the trash bin, simple as that. So that’s what we’ll do. What follows now is a beginners’ guide to a zero-waste lifestyle. With easy-to-apply tips and tricks that pave the way for anyone to appropriate a life with less waste.
The five waste-free principles
We’ll start with the five principles of personal waste-management:
- Refuse. Neglect the things that you don’t need in your life. Refusing goes beyond saying ‘no’ to any marketing folder that is pushed in your hands. Also refuse to take to-go cups, fast fashion, plastic straws and plastic bags. Basically it means minimizing consumption of the things that you have become used to in your daily life. It’s all about the details here, so be mindful of the things you use. Do you really need that keyhanger souvenir while there are still three lying around in your drawer, probably broken into two before they made it to your home country? Probably not. Free toys that come with your groceries? No thank you! That standard pair of plastic cutlery with your to-go meal? Dare to say no and free yourself of useless materials. Naturally, it will leave you with more time and space to spend on the things that DO matter.
- Reduce. Reduce what you can’t refuse. This step helps you to focus on the things you need in your day-to-day life. These can be cleaning products, cosmetics, gadgets, anything! Look at all the things you have in your home and get rid of the unnecessary. Sell, hand out to the second-hand store, recycle or give away. Congratulations; you’ve just made the choice to own quality over quantity and life experience over material goods.
- Reuse. There are certain things you need when going to the (super)market. Plastic bags are not one of them. Instead, use a canvas bag or containers for your fruits and vegetables, which you can reuse. The same goes for reusable containers to store your food in the fridge, instead of the wasteful plastic cling film to cover yesterday’s late night pizza.
- Rot. Composting is a process in which organic waste changes into soil conditioner. The end product: compost, is rich in nutrients and can be used in farming, agriculture etcetera. Whether you live on a farm or in an apartment on the seventh floor, there are always composting options. Keep your organic waste separate and get informed on the composting options in your neighbourhood. Many cities have wormhotels, where hundreds of worms create high-quality, nutrient-rich compost out of your organic waste. Here you can get rid of your organic waste and contribute to the production of nutrient-dense soil conditioner. Via https://wormenhotel.nl/kaart/ you can search for the worm hotel nearby, or start your own worm hotel.
- Recycle. There will unfortunately be some products that you use and have to dispose. Always check your municipality’s website to know about the recycling policies.
The information that is shared here was mostly derived from desk research. But to actually know what it is like to live waste-free, we will only find out if we go out and try it! So: starting the first of May, me and two others will embark on a waste-free journey that will last one full month. We will test-run all tips, tricks and strategies for a waste-free lifestyle and log on the challenges and everything that strikes us during the journey. During the TBYW summer festival we hope to see you during an interactive session during which all ins and outs of minimizing personal consumer waste will be discussed. But: we don’t want to do this alone! Do you feel like taking on a challenge? Join! Send an e-mail to HannekeM@tastebeforeyouwaste.org and let’s do this, together.
Additionally, TBYW organizes a series of workshops that help you on the way to a waste-free life. Here’s the overview of all the workshops that will be given, starting the 30th of April.
|30.04.2019||Kitchen hygiene||Reusable wipes
|21.05.2019||Soap making||Coffee scrub
|04.06.2019||Menstrual cycle||Menstrual cup
|11.06.2019||Personal hygiene/protection||Eye liner
Make up remover
Stay tuned in on TBYW’s social media channels to find more information soon. We hope to see you at the workshops and don’t hesitate to get in touch and join us in the waste-free month challenge!
- Bourguignon, D. (2015) Understanding waste streams. Treatment of specific waste. EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service. Members’ Research Service
- Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R. & Lavender. K. (2017) Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, Vol 3 No 7.
- Lee, F. G. Lee-Jones, A. (2011) Solid Waste Management: US EPA Lined-Landfill Approach Not Reliable for Protecting Public Health and Environmental Quality.
- Media Centre European Parliament, 2018/06/04, Circular economy: Europe cleans up its act. Retrieved from: https://multimedia.europarl.europa.eu/en/circular-economy-europe-cleans-up-its-act_N01-PUB-180504-CIRC_ev, at 09/04/2019
- Themelis, N. J. & Ulloa, P. A. (2006) Methane generation in landfills. Science Direct, Renewable Energy 32 (2007) 1243–1257