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Waste and zero-waste living

 

©The Green Hub

 

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.

 

Plastic, not-so-fantastic

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Date (dd.mm.yyyy) Theme Topic
30.04.2019 Kitchen hygiene Reusable wipes

All-purpose cleaner

Dish soap

14.05.2019 Personal hygiene/protection Toothpaste

Deodorant

Sunscreen

21.05.2019 Soap making Coffee scrub

Bar soap

04.06.2019 Menstrual cycle Menstrual cup

Reusable pads

cramp oil

11.06.2019 Personal hygiene/protection Eye liner

Bronzing powder

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!

 

References:

  • 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

Just about a decade ago it was rare to witness individual fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic. But today, almost everything comes packaged in a plastic film. Although such packaging helps to preserve products for longer period of time, we are often oblivious of the fact that they are the biggest irritants chocking our oceans.Globally, as little as 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017, and each year, more than 8 million tons of plastic waste makes it into the world’s oceans (UNEP, 2017).

The root of the packaging wastage issue in grocery stores is attached to the way the food is packaged and sold to the end consumers. After being shipped in boxes, the food sits on the grocery shelf, often wrapped in plastic or cellophane. Consumers then carry the same food already wrapped in plastic in another plastic bag. Thus, there is a never ending trail of plastic wastage that keeps on multiplying from the producers till the end consumers.

The entry of the Zero- waste grocery stores :  

As a consequence of the extreme packaging wastage issue, there is a tremendous public resentment and backlash against single-use plastic packaging in recent years. For instance there have been well over 100 plastic attacks around the world, mostly in Europe, but also in Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Peru and the United States (Tutton, 2018). It has compelled many retailers to start rethinking about their waste footprint and design stores with minimum plastic packaging.  As a result, “Zero-waste” or package-free shops, which sell nothing wrapped in unnecessary packaging like plastic, cardboards came into existence. By offering people the option to buy bulk items in their own containers, or purchase refillable ones, these new package-free stores could change the way we shop. 

The trend of zero-waste grocery stores is spreading rapidly all around the world. Several zero-waste stores have opened across Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore and mainland China (Brinkley, 2018). Thus the following sections will analyse the different formats of such zero waste grocery stores around the world.  

The following are some of the popular design models of zero waste grocery stores:  

1. Refill format:  

One of the most popular zero waste design models amongst retailers is the refill format. Whereas non-food/specialty shops have remained successful in implementing such model in the past, grocery stores are still figuring out on ways to apply this refill model successfully. However many grocery stores are on the rise to aggressively commit themselves towards such a model, which can be evidenced from the following sections.  

©Judith Olive Oil

Some of the characteristic features of such stores are as follows: 

  •  Selling food items in bulk rather than plastic:

Many stores have developed such an approach to encourage customers to bring their own bags. Usually, customers bring in their own refillable containers which are then filled up with bulk buy foods such as grains, pulses, spices, fruits, vegetables and more. Additionally, there are also refills for toiletries, cleaning supplies and other household items.   

For instance, Green Parrot in Swaffham, UK is an independent health food shop which has successfully saved over 5,000 plastic bags and 1,000 plastic bottles during 2018 through its zero-waste refill rooms with dispensers (Hardy, 2019).  At Nada store of  Canada, a dishwasher-safe tag comes as part of their refill system, which makes it easier for returning customers. The tag will store the weight of the empty container, so customers can skip the “tap and weight” step the next time they shop. Big retailers are also slowly catching up with the trend of the refill system. For example, Marks & Spencer is set to launch more than 90 lines of loose fruit and vegetables free of all plastic packaging in a trial which will involve trained greengrocers on hand to help customers (Malley, 2019). 

Other stores that are following the similar footsteps include Precycle, a zero-waste grocery store in Brooklyn,Delicious food,Amsterdam ,The Filling Station in New York and Slowood of Hong Kong. 

  • Offering wholesome zero wastage product and services:  

Sustainable Non-Food items: Apart from providing a refill system for food items these stores also offer diverse, sustainable products and services. It ranges from providing packaging alternatives to sustainable non-food items. For instance, The Refillery in Newington, Edinburgh, stocks ethical detergents, beeswax wraps, cruelty-free  shampoos and even toothpaste in a jar along with food products and is passionate about reducing plastic across different product lines. On the other hand Marks and Spencer(“M&S”) said it has committed to replacing plastic produce bags with paper ones and phasing out plastic barcode stickers in favor of eco-friendly alternatives in every one of its UK stores (Malley, 2019).  

Straight@Amanda Palmar

Inculcating more sustainable lifestyle: Apart from alternative products these stores are going one step ahead by providing services which can facilitate sustainable lifestyle amongst customers. For example, Nada has already expanded the product offering and added a cafe that diverts what could otherwise become food waste from the market’s produce section to an ever-changing menu featuring soups and other dishes (Ottawa Citizen, 2019). Slowood store also has a vegan cafe that applies the same tread-softly philosophy to its menu and kitchen practices (James, 2019).  Greengrocers of M&S will offer customers help to pick and weigh their products and advise on how best to preserve fresh produce and prevent food waste at home as M&S has removed “best before” date labels as part of the trial (Malley, 2019). 

Supporting local charity with the proceeds : 

Many stores combine their zero waste design model to support other causes in the local community. For instance, Hemp bags are produced for the Green Parrot store (UK) by a group of local women, who also send them to Starlings, another independent shop located on the Market Place in the town. All proceeds from these bags go to local charities.  Nature’s Nutrition in North Devon,UK refill shop re-opened as a Community Interest Company some 18 months ago, and all profit goes back into projects in the local community (Howells, 2019). 

2. Zero waste Delivery services:

Not many delivery services are currently able to adopt zero plastic waste  model. However, The Wally Shop of Brooklyn is an exception which has ventured into such a model. It buys produce, grains and herbs from local bulk shops and  farmers’ markets. The service tries to make sure food is as fresh as possible, ideally traveling from farm to customer the same day. Couriers drop off and pick up reusable packaging. Right now, the service only operates in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, but it’s looking to expand to the rest of New York, as well as other cities. 

3. Reusable package model or the “Milkman Model”:  

A few big companies are also working on alternative ways to work towards reducing their waste footprint while also projecting their brand image as sustainable. Their efforts led to the durable packaging program, called “Loop” — a reference to a theoretical circular economy where nothing is wasted — making its debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos (WEF, 2019). Led by New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle, Loop will offer popular products from about 25 companies including Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo in reusable containers that customers order online or purchase in stores and return to the company when finished. 

Loop will collect a refundable deposit that customers will get back when they return their containers. UPS will pick up the empties for no additional charge. Even allowing for the energy required to transport and prepare the products for reuse, the program reduces waste, TerraCycle says. By midMay, products from Loop will initially be available online to customers in Paris through Carrefour and, in the U.S., in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  

Why Should Consumers prefer such stores against the rest? 

©The Zero Waste Chef

Usually, customers prefer convenience and affordability in grocery shopping. They might not be able to experience such zero waste stores due to lack of information, inconvenience in bringing a reusable container, time constraint or non-availability of different food items. But these challenges can be easily tackled once customers start experiencing themselves and understand the underlying intention behind such stores.  

 

Also, there are numerous benefits of shopping at zero waste stores which are as follows:  

  1. Cheaper and fresh food products:   Using refill containers, bottles or bag helps to cut down on additional costs associated with plastic packaging. For instance, Slowood’s foodstuffs are cheaper than packaged supermarket versions, and bulk goods are priced per 10 grams, to cater to shoppers who want small amounts.
  2.  Super convenient: Many shoppers are still under the myth that zero waste stores will be burdensome regarding carrying your own containers. If the mere thought of switching the usual grocery shopping trip for a bring-your-own routine appears troublesome, consumers can start with small changes. It could be as small as carrying reusable shopping totes and skipping plastic produce bags — so no need to buy fancy jars to refill your food items next time.  It’s that simple, and costs a lot less than buying a new one.
  3. Conscious shopping experience:  Shopping at such stores can create a new wave of thoughtful consumers by shifting them away from their current disposable culture. It will inspire more consumers to be conscious and responsible with their purchases and consumption to have a more sustainable lifestyle. Consumers will make informed choices about the quantity of food through pre-planning about the food inventory before leaving the house. It will make sure how much you need and have room for in your reusable bags and containers. Thus it can help in reducing food wastage at the same time.

Conclusion: 

Overall, the concept of zero waste is already adapted by a few small and large retailers. Due to a general rise towards a more environmentally friendly consumption (Global Web Index, 2018), it can be said that the zero waste trend will continue to increase in the future. The result would be the better management of our ecosystem through minimum wastage of water, oil and other natural resources used to grow and deliver food, as well as keeping our oceans free of plastic pollution. 

In addition to that, such a model could be a viable, sustainable and cost effective option for businesses as well as consumers. Zero-waste saves companies money by reducing disposal, labor and energy costs.  Also, such a model has the potential to encourage suppliers to adapt to plastic free delivery to retailers. It can result in less wastage even during production and supply chain. On the other hand, consumers are going to experience conscious shopping in a convenient and affordable manner. It ultimately supports a shift towards a circular economy, where there is no waste involved.  

Though it is still at a nascent stage, we should remember changes take time. And even a small step like skipping plastic bags for a day can have significant impacts.  But the trend must also be scrutinised against risks related to greenwashing- an act of spreading disinformation, largely by corporate interests, in order to present an eco-friendly public image. This way we can take a significant leap towards a sustainable future. 

Sources

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

WEF 

UNEP

CNN

CNBC

Lynn News

The Independent

Ottawa Citizen

South China Morning Post

North Devon Gazette

Global Web Index