Macro level ripple effects of micro shifts
Making an Impact on Waste Management
By now it is widely accepted, at least in theory, that recycling, waste reduction and any human efforts undertaken in furtherance of global sustainability is the better option compared to the decades of mass consumerism, waste and pollution that we’ve seen in through the mid-to-late ‘90s and early 2000’s.
Climate change, necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease pollution appears to be at the forefront of the collective’s mind however, it may not always seem that we’re making a large and quick enough dint in our historical footprint to invoke real change.
A significant portion of efforts to recycle and cut back on waste are largely dependent on government support and enforcement on the local, state and national levels. However, for various reasons, these critically important initiatives don’t often list high on bureaucratic agendas.
In the 1980’s, China was the largest importer of other countries’ wastes for processing however, this ended when that particular policy was drastically cut in 2018 and China stopped acquiring up to 24 kinds of waste that was previously used to create materials that were in short supply.
National, macro level initiatives
The East and West subsequently took very different approaches. For example, the methods that Japan used to dispose of Material Solid Waste (MSW) in the 1990’s strictly enforced recycling practices and then burned other garbage that was not up-cyclable.
The land mass that the amount of physical garbage was taking up in Japan was reduced as a result of the burning practices and they were able to recapture some of the lost energy from garbage waste by generating electricity from the burning process.
In the West, particularly the United States, they chose a more financially and energetically conservative approach by dumping garbage in landfills, in part because they had the land mass space to do that. At present, there are only 71 incinerators in the U.S despite there being thousands of landfills; although there are some serious ancillary concerns about this practice, environmental ones in particular.
The Swedes have one of the most successful recycling rates and have achieved this by raising awareness about the importance of separation.
Separation of waste allows the recycling plants to burn the non-recyclable elements and transform the combustion energy to provide electricity to over 250,000 homes.
The Netherlands apply sustainability into their modelling for construction. In 2018, two major Dutch cities created bike paths constructed entirely out of recycled plastic and to build roads.
However, the sheer amount of waste State’s need to find ways to deal with is staggeringly high and individual efforts that can reduce this pressure on the public system shouldn’t be completely ignored.
Whether one habitually adopts different ways of approaching recycling and waste management in their lifestyle habits or are just learning and discovering about it, one potential approach is to first try and take inventory of our perspectives towards it.
Everything is a resource
Recycling is more than just putting plastics in the yellow bin and garbage in the green bin, it’s approach ‘trash’ as a resource.
When we buy things or order something online, it typically comes wrapped in plastic then packaged in cardboard at the very least.
One little box takes massive amounts of energy to produce: the raw materials to create the item, plastic and cardboard to being with, the human resources to manufacture, distribute, ship and courier the item and the financial cost to us to acquire it.
Often times we may not realise the materials used for various practices consume significant resources.
So why waste all that energy by simply chucking things in the bin when they could be up-cycled or reused.
What can we do with that plastic?
- Do you have a firepit at home? If so, then plastic material is a great fire-starting agent which gets put to use and then burnt in a minimally impactful manner. No waste involved.
- Are you a bit of a green thumb? Any kind of plastic container can make a great, low cost herb or flower planter, bird feeder or terrarium.
What about cardboard?
- Gardens and nature here really are a saviour. Ripped up cardboard can simply be thrown into your garden bed to decompose; it boosts soils nutrient levels, adds organic matter, is a great mulch and prevents weeding.
- Or, burn the cardboard in a firepit. The ash, again, makes a great carbon input and fertiliser for your soil or garden. If you don’t have a garden, approach one of your neighbours that does and give your ash away – they’ll love you for it!
- Or just hang onto the cardboard until a purpose for its requirement makes itself known i.e. you may one day want to do some painting and need a paint splatter surface, or you can repurpose them when you decide to de-clutter around the house and you require storage boxes.
Use what you’ve already got
Waste and pollution reduction isn’t just about managing waste, but resisting the urge to continuously accumulate more stuff and simply use what we’ve already got.
Chances are, if we find ourselves needing something we probably already have a perfectly viable and suitable alternative already laying around somewhere, for example:
- A broken hose can be repurposed as a sheath to sharp bladed tools or knives or screwed to a board and looped to make a tool hanger etc;
- That busted up antique chair can be pulled apart and the various pieces can be repurposed to make art, crafts or a trellis for trees and plant vines.
The list is really endless with just a little bit of creativity and elbow grease.
Micro level, individual initiatives
Let’s try a little exercise. Take out a piece of paper and pen and write out items that you have that are on the brink of no longer being usable. Whether it’s a dilapidated dining table or those pair of shoes that have walked their last walk.
Break down those items into their raw material components. Are they plastic, fabric/textiles, aluminium, etc.
Think about how you could either up-cycled or repurpose their separate components and what you might apply them to in your immediate environment.
Or if you’ve tried some of these methods already, share in the comments some of your stories about how you’ve benefited from repurposing, upcycling or recycling.