September has been a very rubbish sort of month. Happily, I mean a month where rubbish (or the avoidance of it) has been a popular topic, especially amongst us with an interest in all things sustainable.
We kicked off the month with Rachelle Strauss’s Zero Waste Week, looking at the many ways to create less waste on the theme of ‘reuse’. You can see my posts about reducing waste in the bathroom and kitchen here and here.
Some of my favourite blog posts from this week were:
Zoe of Eco Thrifty Living wrote a really inspiring post on her first Zero Waste Week event, where people swapped clothes, books, DVDs and more and made a rather lovely mural from waste materials.
Dawn’s ever-lovely blog, Be a Green Bean, let us have a nosey through her kitchen cupboards as she used up the contents of the cupboards rather than buying more.
Jen at Make Do and Mend-able was as reliably resourceful as ever and had a whole series of ideas, one of my favourites being this post on learning and sharing skills to reuse and repair.
Before I knew it, Waste Less Live More Week was kicking off next – even too quickly for me to summon the time and resources to write a post about it! Their focus was about taking action with other people to make a positive impact on the environment around you.
What I did do to celebrate the week was take part in an online litter pick organised by Kate at Plastic is Rubbish, where we all contributed our litter picking activities in our own area to a Facebook group and chatted about rubbish (in a good way!). One thing I really noticed about the rubbish I collected was how much of it is ‘junk’ food and drink that gets discarded in the street. What does this mean? I don’t think it can be as simple as saying that people who buy unhealthier food don’t care about their surroundings as much. I eat (at least) my fair share of less-than-virtuous foods, it’s just that it doesn’t end up littering the streets! Perhaps it comes back to my ongoing bugbear of ‘convenience’ – it’s so easy and quick to buy and consume something without having to consider the implications of the resources that went into it, perhaps it’s equally easy for some people to not consider the implications of what happens to it afterwards either. What do you guys think?
And in the news…
The subject of rubbish has been in the regular news more than usual recently too. In part this is because next month, from 5th October 2015, England is finally getting around to restricting the giveaway of plastic bags in retailers and charging 5p per bag. We are the latecomers to the party; Scotland started charging in 2014, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Wales in 2011. I cannot believe how long this has taken to be implemented here – over two years since it was announced!
Even with the slow implementation, it’s not being done as thoroughly as it could be, with the requirement to charge only for retailers who employ 250 or more full-time equivalent employees. It also has a painfully long list of exemptions where bags can be given away free, such as for uncooked meat and fish, your dry cleaning, and when it contains free promotional material. Whilst the last one technically makes sense (who would pay to be given free stuff?), it annoys me even more – a free plastic bag to give away stuff you don’t even need which is creating even more waste!
Interestingly, this article from The Independent argues that lots of small businesses who are exempt from the charge will be charging, and in fact that they would like to be included in the requirement to do so. Perhaps a good example of how growing numbers of UK citizens are much more environmentally-minded than Government policy requires, or indeed enables, us to be?
Another news article that has encouraged people to think and talk about their waste is the recent announcement that Fife Council are planning to move to monthly bin collections, in an aim to encourage higher recycling rates. My first thought on this was ‘great!’ and in many ways, pretty much any initiative that encourages less landfill waste is a good thing. But it’s also not quite hitting the nail on the head because it doesn’t appear to be encouraging people to create less waste overall, but instead to switch from creating landfill waste to recyclable waste. Recyclable waste is still waste – it still has to be manufactured, transported, stored, bought, taken home, used, washed, put in the recycling bin, and picked up by a recycling truck. In a good scenario, it’s then driven to a recycling centre in the same area (or at least the same country), recycled, and then goes through the process again. In a less good scenario it could be:
- be shipped abroad for recycling, but ends up going to landfill either there or getting sent back here for our landfill instead
- shipped abroad for recycling, using up more resources in the process
- contaminated beyond what is viable for a recycling centre to deal with
- not recycled as the market for the recycled material that is produced is not viable
A significantly better option would be for less waste to be created overall. My personal preference would be for governments to legislate against excess packaging, provide financial incentives and infrastructure for reusables and for companies to be at least partially responsible for the packing they create. All these would help individuals to create less waste and remove part of the responsibility from the person buying the stuff and hand it back to those creating it. I wonder what the chances are of that happening? (Hint, I don’t think it would be very wise to hold my breath!)
But far be it for me to leave the post on a slightly gloomy note. September has shown me many examples of people caring, getting involved, and making both small and big changes. So please raise your canvas bags to the challenge, pick up that discarded bottle and carry on being the generally being awesome human beings that you are!