Household waste is a hot topic these days. Now the penny has finally dropped that we are causing our planet irreparable damage and polluting our oceans beyond recognition people are finally sitting up and paying attention. Now I can’t speak for any global politicians who seemly, at least from what is being reported, aren’t doing too much to solve the issues, however the general public really are starting to make changes. I, myself, for a long while dug my heels in: “What can I really do?” “What difference will I really make?”. Well if I am being honest, I won’t make much of a difference. But imagine if 50% of the population took these first steps to reducing household waste. That would make a difference. And if that 50% can make another 30% make these changes then we really are talking huge and significant results.
The Truth Behind Recycling
The truth is I am no eco warrior, I don’t doubt for a moment that global warming is happening. I know full well that what the government say we are recycling and what we are actually recycling are two different things. But generally this isn’t something I focus on. Looking through some statistics it shows that our rate of recycling is actually dropping. Of course so is the amount going to landfill so these stats may only show half the story. As our population is still increasing so perhaps more and more people really are looking at how to reduce their waste. Some results show that certain areas are not hitting the recycling targets. This is likely due to people not really knowing what can and can’t be recycled. But what if we could work towards that result being because people are using more reusable packagings or reducing the packagings all together? Wouldn’t that be something!
“Every month we get around 40 volunteers who sweep our beaches and we pick up hundreds of kilos of rubbish from sanitary products to every plastic bottle imaginable”
It was recently reported that at one point we were exporting 800000 tonnes of plastic waste to China. This is decreasing now but not due to a reduction in plastic waste being produced but due to China changing the rules of what they accept. I am no expert but surely exporting that much waste deletes any good done by recycling? The same reports suggests that it is possible that people that consume sea food are now also consuming plastic waste. I couldn’t verify that claim but I would be reluctant to completely squash it. It makes sense that that is the case.
In the interest of full disclosure it was the plastic straws that got me interested in this. The image many people will be familiar with of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up it’s nose really upset me. We buy beer in our house and we always try to avoid any cans that are held together with plastic. We grew up with the images of sea turtles that have become stuck in these plastic holders and then grown their shells around them. Forever trapped. Forever altered. Any time we have had these plastic beer holders we have cut them up ensuring no animal could be trapped in it. This is naive of course, they can still consume it if it finds it’s way into the sea. Plastic straws have been a continued presence in our house for a few years. I like to drink my cold drinks through a straw, I always have. So when I think how many of these I have used and thrown away, and how many are likely now in the ocean I am ashamed.
“In 2014, 2015 and 2016 the UK exported 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year.”
Big companies such as McDonalds have come out and said they will be removing all their plastic straws and replacing them with paper ones. The figures show that in the UK alone over 8.5 million straws are used annually. I assume this is not just reserved to McDonalds customers. But the dent that can be attributed directly to McDonalds is likely huge when you take into account the amount of visitors they have in a year. There has been outrage. Some people saying the paper straws are disgusting; they are. Some people have said McDonalds patrons are grown adults that shouldn’t need a straw; also true. My take on it is this: It is great that they are taking action, however replacing the plastic with paper only seems to shift the problem. Yes, the paper is more recyclable, however you are relying on the patrons to recycle in the first place. And what about the trees? Haven’t we been down this path before? Wasn’t plastic meant to save the trees?
The First Steps To Reducing Household Waste
With all of this in mind I have started to make simple changes to how I shop and where I source certain products. These little tips are not hard or expensive to execute but over time will make a dramatic difference. So how can you live waste free? Or start the journey towards sustainable living?
1. The Milk Man
Rumour has it that there has been a significant increase in the use of the milkman lately. And what a great thing too. Not only can you hugely reduce the plastic waste by getting milk from a milkman but you can also reduce the amount of glass that needs recycling. On average a milk bottle is used 13 times before it is sent for recycling. The milk we receive is slightly more expensive than the supermarket but only by pennies. It tastes fresher and because it comes in pints I am not throwing away gone off milk at the end of the week.
2. Reusable Straws
There are plenty to choose from, glass ones, steel ones, silicone ones. All of them are washable and reusable. It comes down to personal choice, but I chose a set of stainless steel straws. These came with a cleaning brush and a little bag to hold them in. These were my choice as I wanted to be able to take them out with me to restaurants and cafes. I was worried the glass ones would break in my bag and I dislike the feel of silicone in my mouth. Granted metal in my mouth is hugely unappealing too but as long as I keep the straws away from my teeth they have actually been pleasant to drink from. I use these at home but even if you only have a straw once in a blue moon when you visit a fast food outlet it is worth having a reusable straw.
3. Shopping Bags
We have an abundance of ‘Bags for Life’ from various supermarkets and they are brilliant. They are sturdy and fit loads in. I always take them to the supermarket with me but they are not very convenient to carry around on a day to day basis. To be sure I don’t find myself asking any cashier for a 5p bag I have one that I was bought as a gift from Paperchase. These little bags fold up really small and have their own pouch and hook so you can carry them in or on any handbag. They are also surprisingly strong. There are plenty of other places you can get this sort of thing from including Primark I believe.
4. The Butcher, The Baker, The Candle Stick Maker
Ok replace the candle stick maker with green grocer and you get my point. These businesses use less plastic bags than the supermarket and you can even take your foldable tote bag with you and they will fill it up for you so you don’t even need their paper bags. Obviously I would recommend you have the meat wrapped but there is no need for all the plastic bags the supermarkets wrap their fruit and veg in. I always thought that fresh produce from these people was more expensive than the supermarkets but that really isn’t always the case and I find it lasts much longer and is of a much higher quality than supermarkets can offer.
5. Menu Plan
I think everyone is going to get fed up with me harping on about Menu Planning but it seriously works. I actually hate writing the menu plan as I find my mind goes blank on meals I can make. However, with a plan in place I know exactly what I need to buy and how much of it. My food and packaging waste has dramatically decreased but doing this and because I have a week in advance planned, if things do change then the meals can be moved around. I can also check the dates of all produce so I know when it arrives if anything needs freezing.
6. Reusable Coffee Cup
You can buy these reusable cups in most food outlets and gift shops. When you look they are everywhere. The tricky part is remembering to take them out with you, but once you get into the habit it will make a huge difference in the ling run.
Living Environmentally conscious shouldn’t mean going without your luxuries or treats, but instead the way we seek and use those luxuries and treats can be a little more mindful.
How Do You Reduce Your Waste?
So those are my five very simple ways towards reducing household waste. Nothing on there costs a fortune and all of it is very achievable. Each thing may not seem like it will make a difference but as I said in the beginning, imagine if 50% of the population did this. That really would make such a difference. Don’t you think?