Waste pollution is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time. Australia alone generates about 67 million tonnes of waste each year—which equates to a massive 2700kg per person—according to the National Waste Policy 2018 paper. As monumental as the waste problem might seem however, each of us can make a huge impact by doing small changes in our lives. Here are simple zero waste starters.
Plastic waste and marine life
Buying takeaway lunch, putting groceries in plastic bags, drinking from a single-use bottle—plastic packaging really makes day-to-day activities easy and convenient. However, plastic products are mostly disposable and single use, and they tragically end up in the ocean.
Sea birds get themselves caught in plastic waste floating in the water. Planktons ingest microplastics, which we can also consume from the fish and shellfish that we eat. In a 2015 study, the University of Queensland found that sea turtles who feed on jellyfish mistake plastic bags for food. About 52% of them have plastic debris in their bodies.
Zero waste starter: Reduce use plastic packaging
Our purchasing decisions can really make a huge impact on nature. Choosing products without unnecessary packaging can help not only reduce waste but also save other animals. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
- Reusable food containers. Approximately 95% of plastic packaging is discarded after use, posing a threat to marine wildlife (WWF-Australia). Choose reusable to-go containers for your lunch and snacks.
- Reusable shopping bags. In Australia, about 429,000 plastic bags end up in landfills every hour (Plastic Free Sea). Swap single-use shopping bags with reusable ones to reduce waste.
- SodaStream. One SodaStream bottle allows a typical household reduce its use of over 3700 of plastic bottles and cans (SodaStream). Make homemade sparkling water to help limit plastic bottle use.
Plastic waste and recycling costs
Yes, plastic bottles and other single-use packaging can be recycled. But did you know that not all of them can be reprocessed? Recycling plants find it difficult to recycle some forms of plastic due to several factors.
Cups and food packaging made of polystyrene, for instance, are hard to process when not sorted out properly and can break up into small beads that can clog sorting machines. Soiled plastic wraps and bags can also attract pests. The costs involved in sorting and recycling these plastics are not practical either (BBC).
Manufacturing plastic bottles also require a lot of energy. In Australia, about 400,000 barrels of oil are needed to make them each year, and about 7L of water is required just to make 1L of water bottle (Australian Museum).
Zero waste starter: Choose to reuse
Solving this problem is quite easy, especially when you have the right reusable products and access to free tap water! Choose good quality reusable cups and bottles that are long lasting so they don’t end up in the rubbish after a short time.
- Reusable water bottles. About 373 million plastic water bottles end up in the rubbish every year as Australia recycles only 36% of them (University of Wollongong). Refill reusable bottles to save money and the environment.
- Reusable coffee cups. KeepCup reusabe cups are made of plastic that is recyclable at the end of its life and has helped in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92% (University of Melbourne). Bring your own reusable coffee cup for less waste and more savings.
- Reusable straws. Most plastic straws are used for only 30 minutes then thrown away as waste (Clean Up Australia). Choose stainless steel straws to reduce waste and help protect nature.
Food waste and greenhouse gases
On top of the continuing war on plastic waste, organic waste that come from the food we throw away is another environmental hurdle. When left to rot in landfills, food waste emits methane—a greenhouse gas that is stronger than carbon dioxide and one of the causes of global warming and climate change.
On a global scale, food waste makes up approximately 50% of the landfill, and about 5 million tonnes of food becomes waste in Australia, which is enough to fill 9000 Olympic-sized swimming pools (Subpod). These facts are truly depressing, especially when you think about the people who go hungry or the large number of malnourished children all over the world.
Zero waste starter: Limit and repurpose food waste
Do your part by limiting the food waste you generate. Plan your meals for the week, buy only what you need, and store food properly to extend shelf-life. Treating food waste as a valuable resource is another key to addressing this problem. By turning waste into compost, we can reduce gas emissions, revitalise our soil, and grow our own food.
- Reusable produce bags. Australians throw away up to 20% of their purchased food and make about 140kg of waste per person every year (FoodWise). Keep vegetables and fruits fresh longer with breathable and reusable produce bags.
- Compost bins. Organic waste accounts for about 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, nearly as much as that of the aviation industry (Compost Revolution). Use a compost bin to make nutrient-rich soil with your own food scraps.
Learn more about how you can limit food waste at home or transform your kitchen waste into useful compost through our upcoming workshops.
A problem remains a problem unless acted upon. One person’s decision to act can lead to results, and to even greater outcomes when more people follow suit. Start your zero waste habit today!