It seems easy once somebody points it out. But until those words are first uttered, we can find ourselves still going through the same motions and habits day after day not even realising the cold, hard truth of the matter. We only have waste because we create it.
People have become used to the convenience of the dustbin.
- Fill up the bin in the kitchen
- Empty it into the wheelybin 5 times a week
- Garnish with any leftovers from various wastepaper baskets and bathroom empties
- Serve to the pavement to be collected
- Start again…
Maybe I’m being facetious here, but at the end of the day, is it not the case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’? As long as that dustbin lorry keeps popping along every week to take away our refuse, we don’t need to worry about it.
But what if one day it all stopped? What would we do then? There was uproar and people shouted high from the rooftops in areas where recycling services meant the weekly refuse collection was reduced to once every 2 weeks instead of the convenient weekly service. The population had premonitions of bin bags of surplus rubbish piling up beside the wheelybin; of rats dining out on the leftovers, ill-protected by said plastic bags, and of the delightful aroma of sun-baked nappies wafting on the summer evening air.
Well the people had a reason to panic, because these consequences would not be terribly desirable, but they only had this sense of foreboding because they knew their own failings and weaknesses. Had they the faith in themselves to know that they would happily separate their recyclable items from the general waste, they would have no need to worry about rats, nappies or overflowing dustbins.
It doesn’t just stop with separating recyclable items from other rubbish however. If we (and I’m referencing the whole population here) didn’t create the waste in the first place, we wouldn’t have to dispose of it either – and I use the word waste with gusto, and with preference to the word rubbish, because it is a terrible waste of and drain on the world’s resources.
If the companies producing the packaging that shrouds nearly every item we purchase, and oftentimes in excessive amounts, were to pledge to be more responsible about what materials they use and how much of it they use, we could well start to see at least something of a difference to the amount of waste filling our bins. Some companies are already changing their habits – you may well have noticed an addition to the small print on the backs of packets saying ‘some local authorities will recycle this’ or ‘sorry, not yet recyclable’. Some will even tell you ‘we’re working on it’. Well that’s fine… as long as they are. There are many places for waste paper recycling as a well as glass, tins etc.
People underestimate the power they have as consumers. It is the simple case of supply and demand.
Some supermarkets will provide their organic ranges in bio-degradable packaging that you can add to your compost heap when empty and bottle items in glass rather than plastic. Glass recycling saves a lot of energy over producing a new bottle and plastic can be avoided altogether.
Most box schemes will deliver vegetables in boxes made from recycled cardboard, and then re-use each box a few times before recycling it again (10 point for you!), and will leave most of your veg loose in the box – unpackaged.
Those box schemes that offer meat often try to use biodegradable bags and recycle the polystyrene boxes the food comes to you in. So why do supermarkets need to pack your pork chops in a thick plastic tray topped off with thick plastic covers? If meat can travel with a courier to your door and sit happily in your freezer ’til you decide to enjoy it, why can’t meat travel home from the supermarket in the back of your car in the same way?
I accept that not everybody can afford to make the consumer choice to buy meat from a box scheme or opt for organic veg in the supermarket just to have more environmentally friendly packaging. But most people have access to a local butcher or baker or veg shop, and most of these smaller shops will use thinner plastic bags or brown paper bags to put your food in. Local is becoming popular again – help it flourish at the same time as reducing how much goes in your bin!
If there isn’t anything closer to you than the supermarket, there are still things you can do to reduce your impact. Instead of pre-packaged veg, choose loose vegetables and re-use the plastic bags from the previous week to carry them home. If you usually buy meat in pre-packaged trays, go to the deli counter. Most supermarkets have them – Morrisons stores have in-store butchers and fishmongers too, and your food will come in thinner plastic bags instead.
The other thing you could do is write to people and make them aware of your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Let the supermarket bosses know why you’re not buying pre-packaged anymore and challenge them to switch their thick plastic to bio-degradable bags instead. If smaller companies can do it, supermarkets shouldn’t have a problem paying the extra pence to decrease their carbon footprint.
It’s the small things that make a difference, because one day, they might just grow into something big.