One of the base ideologies of the Western world is that of limitless growth and the right to consume. However, both of these assumptions are costly both in environmental and human terms and have been feeding a worldwide culture of excess. Erik Assadourian, a Senior Fellow at the World Watch Institute has explained: “Until we recognise that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilisation.” Indeed, if everyone was to consume at the rates of the U.S., we would need 3 to 5 planets to sustain this rate (Story of Stuff 2007). This short video, “The Story of Stuff,” explains in more detail some of the impacts of our obsession with consumption: http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/.
In light of these facts, a strong push has arisen to limit the amount that we consume and minimise the production of waste.
When we consider the ways that we generate waste, it is helpful to consider the two major sections of a product’s life: procurement and disposal.
- Before a new purchase is made, it is important to stop and think whether it is actually necessary. Can you use a product which you already have in a different way? Can you conduct the task without this item?
- If you decide that you really need that new item, try and see if you can join a collective and acquire it through there or purchase it second-hand. For example check out Freecycle (https://www.freecycle.org/), a grassroots non-profit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free thereby decreasing the amount of purchases being made
- If you still haven’t been able to source the item, choose products which are made from environmentally friendly or renewable sources/materials. However, be warned due to the proliferation of certification logos and environmental claims, the credentials of the company may be left wanting or be severely watered down. It pays to do some research into the background of what a company means when they say that they employ “environmentally friendly strategies” or fulfil “sustainable development criteria”.
- If you’re tossing up between two items of equal merit, go for the one with less packaging. Buying in bulk also helps reduce packaging.
- It is also worth considering sourcing items from local suppliers as this reduces the carbon costs associated with shipping.
- Overall, the goal should be to minimise the consumption of natural resources.
- To start off with, it is helpful to reassess what you see as waste – reconsider the lifespan and lifecycle of a product before throwing it out.
- Almost two-thirds of waste send to landfill is from organic matter (e.g. food and garden waste). When this decomposes, it produces a gas which is approximately 55% methane – a greenhouse gas linked as a strong contributor to global warming. Instead, how about composting this matter? It also makes for great fertiliser!
- At the moment, Australians throw away, on average, 21 million tonnes of waste per year (Living Greener 2014). Where possible, seek to reuse and recycle items thereby minimising landfill.
- It is common knowledge that you can recycle things like paper, cardboard and glass, but did you know there are also programs to recycle electrical appliances and batteries?
The Waste Hierarchy
Overall, these principles have been informed by the Waste Hierarchy (see below).
We only have one planet – so let’s look after it!
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