Are we missing the point with the “war on waste”?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

waste-clipart-vector-86308580Methinks that we certainly are for the point is not waste reduction and recycling but reduction of consumption and reuse. But when reuse is being made into recycling (see my article “The politics of recycling vs reusing”) then in the mind of the people we are creating a false message and image.

Waste is something that is – more or less – unavoidable, if we count all waste, including human waste. But there is a great amount of waste that can be avoided to almost nil if we go down the reduction route for starters, plus add to that reuse.

The largest amount of waste in the waste stream is packaging due to over-packaging, mostly, of products and produce, followed, I should guess, by food waste. Obviously the single use beverage cups, such as for coffee, which are currently in the news, due to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, also make up a large quantity of waste that ends up in landfill.

As far as packaging waste is concerned it is very much down to industry to change their ways and reduce the amount of packing used. In addition to that packaging could, as it is being done on occasions, have a second use designed into it, and that would be the task for designers. Maybe we could also take a leaf or two out of the Japanese book of packaging, especially when done by stores.

It is rather irrelevant as to whether the packaging can be recycled or not. Over-packaging should be done away with and then we should be looking at, when and where packaging is required, into some kind that can have a second or even third use. It can be done and sure is not rocket science.

But, if we only put our minds to it then in many cases we would not need a guide as to how to reuse this or that item of packaging “waste”; our grandparents and their parents knew how to do it and did it. Today, however, if you engage in serious reuse of packaging, whether glass jars, or whatever, you are being looked upon as weird, and as an eccentric. But we must get back to that mindset if we want to win this war on waste. It is not – always – down to the manufacturers and to industry, but to us.

When it comes to those 5,000 single use coffee cups that we throw into the trash, en-route to the landfill, every minute of every day in the UK alone it is up to us who frequent those coffee shops and the like to make a change by bringing our own, barista friendly, reusable coffee cup, and there are a number of different kinds to chose from. It is not – always – up to industry and government, as indicated above.

When it comes to packaging for shipping, such as for sales via the Internet, and many of us today buy online (often cheaper, but not always, as the postage and packing may need to be added to the price), the biggest culprit is Amazon but it is not Amazon alone. Others can be equally silly (not to use a stronger term) to put a rather small item into a huge box. I had that with a sample I was sent for review that was in a rather several times oversized cardboard box. This is not necessary, especially as some items can be transported safely enough in a padded envelope. Having said that I generally almost always find a reuse for any cardboard box, as long as it is strong enough.

However, with all the “war on waste” talk and putting the blame entirely on to industry we are definitely missing the point, and that seriously. Reducing waste, that is to say the “war on waste”, begins to a great extent with each and everyone of us, namely by refusing to buy all the stuff that we do not need but that industry tries to sell us by means of clever advertising campaigns that create a need where there was none and is none.

Before buying anything (new) ask yourself several questions, and here is but a small list:

  1. Do I really need it (even though you may want it)?

  2. Can I make it myself (through DIY or reuse)?

  3. Can I buy it second-hand?

  4. If you already have say a cellphone or PC or whatever the question must be: does my old one still work? Does it still do what I want and need it to do?

If your answers negate a need to buy then don't.

In addition to that we must somehow force industry, and in this case it is industry (and maybe also the politicians for they can legislate) to make products that are repairable and thus sustainable and then get a repair economy going again as well.

That is the way we will reduce waste not by having a go at industry to make use smaller packaging and less of it (though a good idea that would be too), and in the case of coffee shops and such to demand that they use compostable single use cups. In the latter case it is up to us to force a change by demanding that the shops permit the use of reusable cups for us to bring our own.

In addition to that it would be good if we would also think as to whether we really have to go out to those chains and buy coffee and waste our money on such things. Just think that for the price of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, Costa or whatever the name of the chain, you can buy almost half a pound of ground coffee in the shops. The same goes for bottled water. Take your own bottle and fill it up with tap water. Wasting money is also waste. And now I will rest my case; it is beginning to get rather heavy.

© 2016