I’m a good recycler and I think recycling is important but I have a huge problem with it. Or rather with people who think they’re doing their bit for the planet by recycling. The council campaigns have been so successful that it’s second nature now. Pretty much everyone across Melbourne puts their bottles, cans and papers into the kerbside recycle bin. It’s easy. But that’s all they do. I think it makes most people switch off to doing anything else. They can feel good about doing the right thing by recycling, so there’s no need to think any further about sustainability or climate change.
Even on the recycling front, there is much more to it than just putting the wine bottles and stubbies in the wheelie bin. It hasn’t reduced most people’s consumption of goods and packaging, and the kerbside bin only takes some recyclables.
So what else can we do?
I’m learning new things about recycling all the time. Firstly, turning the recycled material into new products uses energy (= CO2 emissions) and water and creates more pollution and toxic waste. So reducing what we buy is important and especially reducing the packaging. I’m not perfect here, but my goal is to keep improving all the time. Once again, Greenpeace has lots of tips on their website blog http://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/13-everyday-items-didnt-know-recycle/
- Bags and packaging. I’ve found the easiest thing to change is to say no to plastic bags. I always take reusable bags when I’m shopping, whether for food or clothes or anything else, and just make sure I hang on to the receipts so I don’t get stopped for shoplifting. Greenpeace has a good article on bags here https://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/cleaning-up-our-plastic-act/?utm_campaign=Green+Living&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_term=plasticact
I’ve also started to buy less processed and packaged food, which also cuts down on things for the recycle bin. My bad here is I still use those tear-off plastic bags when I’m in the fruit and veg shop. I’m trying to change this but it’s slow. Sometimes I’ll use paper bags instead, or no bag for bigger things. I always save the bags I bring home and have started taking them back to the fruit shop and reusing them, but it’s not an ingrained habit yet so I often forget.
Some shops supply what they call bio-degradable plastic bags but there is no such thing! These bags just break down into smaller and smaller pieces but they’re still pieces of plasti,c which will be around for almost ever. A recent study I saw in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/01/up-to-90-of-seabirds-have-plastic-in-their-guts-study-finds claimed that 90% of sea birds and sea life have plastic in them. So bags are only biodegradable if they are made out of something else, not from plastic. And there is so so much plastic in the ocean it’s scary http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/10/full-scale-plastic-worlds-oceans-revealed-first-time-pollution There’s an interesting story here about a young guy who is trying to clean up the ocean cleaning up the oceans
2. After finding out that you can’t put some plastics in the kerbside bin, I’ve started collecting soft plastics and food packets and dropping them off in the bin at Coles once a week or so. This was a bit of a hassle at first, but I’ve got a better system going now and it’s getting easier, though it’s still hard getting the whole family to remember to do it. It’s amazing how much difference it’s made to our rubbish. The kitchen non-recycle bin has such a small amount in it now, it would take more than a month to fill. And it feels a bit silly putting the wheelie bin out on rubbish night when it’s hardly got anything in it.
3. Compost. Apparently in Australia, we throw out about a third of our food. This means lots of energy and water and “food miles” for nothing. We have chickens and compost bins so that’s an easy one for us and cuts down on our rubbish too. I’m also resolved to try to not overbuy or overcook so there is less wastage.
4. Dead batteries, light globes, old phones, electrical and electronic appliances.
There are quite a few organisations that will collect these things as they should NOT go in your rubbish. Some are listed on the Greenpeace site above. I’ve found the best way for us is to collect them at home and then take them to the council depot. For us, the closest is the City of Yarra one in Clifton Hill where there are separate bins for everything. This is not hard.
5. Old clothes and furniture. There’s charity shops and sites like ebay and gumtree. Easy.