Since the three-part ABC series, War on Waste, was broadcast in May, waste has become a hot topic in the Australian landscape.
It began an important conversation, that society so desperately needed and it is imperative this conversation does not simply dwindle away into the abyss.
The amount of waste we generate from our over consumption is an incredibly massive problem. We keep consuming which means factories need to keep on producing, but once we are done consuming these products don’t miraculously evaporate into thin air. Instead, they go to landfill and continue to pollute our earth.
We do it with clothes, food, plastic, drinks, cosmetics, cleaning products, and basically every other item that can be purchased. This is despite the fact there are a number of alternatives and other ways of doing things that can drastically reduce our waste.
Events and Project Manager at the Canberra Environment Centre, Gaby Ho believes reducing our waste begins with removing the unessential items.
“It depends on who you are and your lifestyle but I think it’s about making those really simple changes in your life that mean you don’t really have to change the way that you do things,” said Ho.
“Like getting a takeaway coffee cup is really easy, bringing your food from home in a reusable container that you bring yourself is really easy.
“For example, I bring my lunch to work in a little container that I take with me and I also clean up at work. So if I end up getting a takeaway (for dinner), I don’t have to use a disposable container, I can just use that.”
Reducing waste is one thing, but others, such as those in the zero-waste movement, have taken a more extreme approach by completely eliminating it altogether.
The zero-waste movement is a largely an online movement, where followers come together to share tips through blogs, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Many such as Lauren Singer (featured in the Ted Talk above), produce next to no waste. Indeed, Lauren proudly proclaims all the trash she has produced inthe last three years fits into one mason jar.
Yes just one mason jar.
She was able to achieve this by making her own products, not buying any food in packaging, shopping second-hand and downsizing to include only the most essential items. Lauren shares tips through her blog Trash is for Tossers.
This lifestyle is obviously a daunting prospect for some.
Gaby believes zero-waste living is a realistic goal, but that plastic free living is incredibly difficult.
“Zero waste is making sure all of your consumables and things you dispose of are diverted to different avenues. I think that’s possible because zero waste means you can still recycle things,” she said.
“Zero-waste, I think is realistic, I’m not saying that it’s easy, it’s really hard.”
She referenced toothpaste and moisturisers as examples of things people could find difficult to part with, as homemade versions may not offer benefits to people suffering with gum disease or eczema.
“Plastic free living is really, really hard (it) depends on how much you want to do it and how far you want to go” said Ho.
Canberran, Loren Howell, is somebody who has taken the leap and embraced a plastic-free lifestyle.
“I have always been really passionate about the environment, I studied the environment and conservation so I’ve always been aware of my own actions and their impact on the environment,” said Howell.
“I went along to an event night that the environment centre hosted last year called ‘life without plastic’ and it was a panel discussion with the two panelists being a marine biologist and a lawyer and they completely stopped using plastic in their lives and I just thought what an interesting concept.
“So I went home and did my research and kept reading about all these horrifying statistics and saw all these other people that had gone plastic free around the world and thought I can do that.”
Inspired by her plastic-free lifestyle and a willingness to share the plastic free message Loren started Yangoora Close.
Yangoora Close is a small business selling “sustainable products and handcraft durable, reusable, biodegradable alternatives to the plastic items in your everyday life.”
These include straws, beeswax wraps, produce bags and toothbrushes.
“(Yangoora Close) started because I heard about this great thing that you can make at home which you use instead of glad wrap and it’s basically cotton and beewax,” said Howell.
“I thought okay I’m going to have a go and I’m going to make one of these and we eliminated glad wrap from our house overnight.
“I made some for friends and gave out some for Christmas.
“Before I knew it I sort of created this new eco-label where I was buying things I liked in terms of reusable products.”
Loren’s main piece of advice for people looking to embark on a journey towards becoming plastic-free is to avoid “the big four” and to eliminate plastic packaging.
“If you have a look at what the big four are they call them the big four because they amount to forty percent of the plastic waste we accumulate and that is disposable coffee cups, plastic straws, plastic drink bottles and plastic bags,” she said.
“If you can replace those items with something reusable you’ve already made a huge difference. That’s the first thing I did and I really didn’t find it all that hard.
“The second thing I would advice is try to eliminate plastic packaging because that accounts for thirty percent of all the plastic we use.
“It’s a real problem, a lot of people have realised from the War on Waste that you can recycle soft packaging but I would advise to try bulk food shopping.”
Other things you can do to reduce your plastic include making your own cosmetic products such as toothpaste, mascara and deodorant.
“I have homemade toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant,” said Loren.
“I make my own exfoliant, I have my own serum for moisturising and I’ve even made my own mascara.”
Reducing our consumption in a way that contributes meaningfully to the environment without resorting to living off the grid in a forest far away, means we have to change our relationships with our everyday items.
Plastic free and zero waste living greatly reduces one’s individual impact on the environment and climate change. Whilst this isn’t a realistic prospect for some, embracing some facets of these lifestyles could have enormous benefits.
Trash sent to landfill releases methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has a significant impact on climate change. Therefore, if on an individual level we want to get serious about our impact on the environment and climate change it is imperative we produce less waste.