Australia. We are at war with waste.
We can’t keep making things, use them once or twice, and then bury them forever. So how do we reduce our waste? How to recycle it correctly?
And above all, how to stop considering it as waste?
We’ve made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and some of the solutions start at home.
In fact, we know many of you are already taking steps to reduce your waste footprint, so let us know what you’re doing, and we’ll share your insights in the weeks to come.
“So Craig, what else can I do?” »
I’m glad you asked.
First, watch the new series on ABC iview (and obviously share it widely).
Now that you’re feeling inspired, here’s a handy collection of my top picks for getting involved, helpfully broken down (see what I did there?) by topic.
Australia has a big plastic problem. Our annual plastic consumption produces the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 5.7 million cars.
In 2020-21, we generated approximately 2.6 megatons of plastic waste. Half of this waste was commercial and industrial waste – but most of the rest has been produced by households, meaning what we do at home can really make a difference.
Think about it: Recycling alone will not solve the problem. You see, currently we recycle 13% of plastics, which is far from enough. It is therefore crucial to avoid plastic when you can. Here are some ideas to help you achieve this:
- Support the BYO Friday initiative: The BYO Friday initiative encourages people to bring their own cups and containers to go on Fridays (because we know Mondays are hard enough!) But earn your superhero cape and aim for every day.
We’ve partnered with Responsible Cafes to create this poster which will be displayed in hundreds of cafes, businesses, schools and workplaces across Australia – you can share it too!
- Say no to plastic in your daily life: Plastic Free July is a global movement where millions of people are part of the solution to plastic pollution. It’s easy – just choose to refuse single-use plastics in different parts of everyday life.
- Learn about recycling: Are you a confused mess trying to figure out where your now empty pizza box should go? Test your recycling knowledge with the ABC News quiz Loading
13% is not the magic number: Although the average Australian mixes up their waste and recycling doesn’t help, it’s not the cause of our plastic problem. Experts say we’ve had insufficient investment in recycling and too little incentive to prioritize recycled content over virgin fossil fuels. Making plastic from virgin fossil fuels instead of recycled content doubles greenhouse gas emissions. Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let big business or government know if you want to see them do better.
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How many of your black-spotted bananas end up in the trash? Or the vegetables you intended to cook? Or leftovers from dinner that “you’ll definitely have for lunch tomorrow”?
Australia sends 7.6 million tonnes of household and commercial food waste landfilled every year. It’s hard to imagine those kinds of volumes, so let’s look at it another way.
Australian households throw away an average of $2,500 worth of groceries each year. Ouch. This means that approximately one in five bags of food is discarded carelessly. In an average four-person household, that’s half a ton of food waste per year!
Your hip pocket may hurt reading this, but financial waste is only a small part of the problem. Throwing away uneaten food wastes all the water, energy, and resources needed to grow food, and when food and other organic matter is sent to landfill, it breaks down and creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Think about it: If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter. In fact, food waste creates far more emissions than the aviation industry.
The benefit of reducing food waste is that much of it can be done by you and your household.
Here are some simple tips to remember:
- Never shop hungry
- Make a list before you shop and check your fridge before you go
- If you’re near stores, visiting frequently for fewer items can help reduce waste.
- Composting is good, but eating is better (and tastier)
- Be realistic, not overly optimistic. I know you want to cook at home seven nights this week, but will you REALLY?
Want to do more?
- Use it! Set up a shelf or container in your fridge where you put any food that needs to be used first, either because it’s been partially eaten or because it’s nearing the end of its lifespan. To help, Oz Harvest has created Use It Up Tape. Order it for free and let the visual prompt help you on your journey to a waste-free fridge. Research has shown this to be an effective way to keep food utilization in mind.
- Join the Share Waste community: Share Waste is a community building AND waste reduction initiative that connects you with your neighbors to keep food waste out of the trash. You can become a donor or host of compost in your neighborhood. Many councils also provide communities with heavily subsidized compost bins. Find out if your board does.
- Volunteer in a food charity: One of the great ironies is that at the same time that we are throwing away perfectly edible food, the pressure of the cost of living means that more families are relying on food charities to get by. If you have some time, why not volunteer with a charity like Food Bank, Second Bite or Oz Harvest. It not only helps others; it’s a great way to keep food out of landfills.
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We’re a hip bunch, so it’s no surprise that Australians are one of the biggest consumers of fashion and textiles in the world. But our love of fast fashion creates a far bigger environmental problem than we realize – many of our clothes are made from plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels.
The fast fashion trend has evolved. That’s right, welcome to the world of super-fast fashion, where you can hop online, browse thousands of inexpensive styles, and have your picks mailed to your front door.
In just six months of 2021, online brand Shein added between 2,000 and 10,000 individual styles to its app every day. Often clothes are made with polyester and other plastics, but that’s not unique to Shein. It’s the reality from low fashion to high fashion, with over 60% of our textiles today made from fossil fuel-based materials.
So you think cotton is the simple solution? Unfortunately no. While it can avoid plastics, it can also use huge amounts of water to create.
Think about it: Whatever you wear has an environmental footprint, so buying less and wearing it more is the only sustainable option.
Here are some other ideas:
- Learn how to repair: A fun way to extend the life of your clothes (and save money) is to learn new skills like mending and sewing. Hit your grandparents or join one of the many repair classes that appear. For inspiration from those who like to wear their repairs loud and clear, check out #VisibleMending.
- Exchange from the community to the store: Organize a clothing swap using the War On Waste campaign. The ABC has hosted two “How to Organize a Clothing Swap” sessions and put together a handy toolkit so you can get accommodation in your community.
- Take the restyle challenge! A scarf is a scarf, until it is a skirt or a belt. Be creative and a garment can be worn in many ways, for different occasions. Repurpose what you have and hit the social media with #WoWRestyle.
- Buy a second hand : The loyal store op remains as much a hobby as a shopping destination. It’s a fun and economical way to shop while reducing clothing waste. And for those who can’t remember a time when clothes didn’t arrive at your doorstep, you can now shop online at The Salvos, Vinnies and other op stores.
- Go for a dive into the wardrobe: Studies suggest that around 30% of our wardrobe goes unworn every year. Guilty? Instead of buying new clothes, see what you can find deep in your closet. If it doesn’t fit you or you wouldn’t wear it, see if you can find a new owner, either through one of the many online marketplaces or by dropping it off at an ops store. But remember: do not throw away unnecessary clothes in the operations stores.
- Rent instead of buy: Spotted a cute piece of clothing in this wardrobe that you can’t wear? See if you can rent it. And when you need new yarn for a special occasion, why not try renting instead of buying? There are peer-to-peer options and a few established stores in the rental game.
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