Cutting down on waste doesn’t always mean replacing products and kitting yourself out with all the latest gizmo’s. That’s why we’ve put together a quick guide on how to cut down what you send to landfill without spending a cent on new gear.
Drink your coffee in the cafe
Drinking coffee in a mug is actually the ideal zero-waste option – taking the extra 10-15 mins to enjoy your coffee in the cafe will save you from sending a whole lot of takeaway cups to landfill, and save you from having to buy a reusable takeaway cup.
While single-use coffee cups that claim to be recyclable or compostable technically are, it’s estimated that around 99.75% aren’t recycled or composted because it’s too expensive to do so (BBC, 2018). In New Zealand, there actually aren’t any recycling facilities that will process recyclable coffee cups (Stuff, 2018). This is because the cups are ‘contaminated’ and made from multiple materials (paper with plastic lining and lid).
On top of this, ‘compostable’ often doesn’t mean home-compostable – a lot of compostable packaging won’t break down in your backyard compost bin as it needs added heat and aeration to properly biodegrade and therefore needs to
Dine in instead of takeaway
Along with takeaway coffee cups, single-use food packaging is also a massive issue when it comes to waste production. One trip to a sushi shop often sends you away with a plastic container, napkins, chopsticks, mini soy sauce bottles, and a paper or plastic bag – most of which can be combated by simply choosing to eat at the restaurant using the plates provided. Side note: in New Zealand, establishments that serve food or drinks have to provide customers with free water, so no need to buy a bottle of water when you’re out for lunch.
Refuse the straw
For the vast majority of people, straws are completely unnecessary (bar perhaps children, people with disabilities, or the elderly). Next time you order a smoothie or iced coffee at a cafe, ask for it without the straw, it will save that plastic from ending up in landfill, or worse, the ocean.
Bring your own containers for takeaway meals
A lot of restaurants will now let you bring your own containers for your takeaways. Chances are you already have a draw or cupboard with a whole lot of plastic containers rattling around in it. Bring one of those next time you’re getting food to takeaway, whether that be lunch or dinner, and most places will oblige.
Use plastic containers/bottles more than once
If you’re caught short and have to buy a bottle of water or food in a takeaway container, use it multiple times before throwing it out – single-use doesn’t always have to mean single-use. Those classic hard plastic rectangular containers that takeaways typically come in are great for keeping and freezing leftovers in, or for bulk meal prep. Water bottles can be used a bunch of times before being thrown out or upcycled into something else.
Choose food in more eco-friendly packaging when shopping
If you have the option between plastic and glass, always choose glass. Plastic is a notoriously tricky material to recycle as only a few kinds can be, and it degrades in the process, meaning a plastic milk bottle cannot be recycled into another plastic milk bottle. Whereas glass doesn’t degrade and can be recycled over and over again without losing its integrity. Sometimes food in glass packaging can be a bit more expensive, but it’s much better for the environment, plus you can use glass jars and bottles for storage or bulk-bin food buying. When it comes between plastic and paper food packaging, paper often can’t be recycled anyway as it will be lined with plastic or be food contaminated, in which case, the production process should be considered – i.e. it takes less non-renewable resources to make paper than it does plastic.
Buying fresh produce from the local farmers market or greengrocers, and meat from the butchers will also save a huge amount of packaging waste. It may take a tiny bit longer, but it may actually be cheaper than getting everything from the supermarket.
Only buy what you need
Taking stock on what’s in your pantry, fridge, and freezer before going out shopping and only buying what you actually need for that week can help to reduce your food wastage massively – especially when it comes to fresh produce. Avoid multi-buy deals unless you really need all five of those capsicum.
Learn what can and can’t be recycled in your area
Every council is different when it comes to recycling, that’s why it’s super important that you head to your local councils website and have a read over what can and can’t be recycled in your area. Not only will it save the recycling facility time and money from sorting out non-recyclable materials (therefore also save tax/ratepayers money), it will help you make more informed purchases. If you know that a certain type of plastic cannot be recycled in your area, then you know what to avoid buying.
Wash your recycling
Bottom line: contaminated recyclables are no longer recyclable.
Any recyclable material that has food remnants or residue in or on it generally cannot be recycled as it jeopardizes the machines in the recycling facilities. They are instead sorted out from the processing line and taken straight to the landfill. Worst of all, if your recycling bin is full of contaminated materials which is then picked up by the kerbside collection truck, it could jeopardise the entire truckload of recycling, potentially sending it all to the landfill.
Recycling must be rinsed out and clean in order for it to have the best chance of actually being recycled. It doesn’t take long to rinse out a milk bottle or give a dip container a quick scrub, but it’s the biggest impact you can have on your recycling actually getting recycled – once it’s been collected, there’s nothing you can do.
We’re not great at recycling in New Zealand, but even with that being said, recycling is not the perfect waste management solution. The WorldWatch Institute actually suggests that “by easing people’s conscience, recycling actually encourages high-consumption habits.” (New Zealand Geographic, 2015). Remember, the first and most important waste reduction step is to ‘reduce’.
Only flush toilet paper
A huge issue for our wastewater treatment facilities is people’s tendency to flush things down the toilet that shouldn’t be flushed. You’d be shocked at what wastewater treatment employees have to deal with – fake teeth, condoms, toys, rubbish etc. Sanitary items and ‘flushable’ wipes should never be flushed.
As Watercare Manager, Peter Rogers, says “We’ve not found one [wet wipe] that breaks down like common toilet paper. I mean, physically, yes you can flush them down the toilet, but it causes big problems… It’s a big cost to homeowners when they get blockages in their private line, and it’s a big cost for us which again, is really the ratepayer that’s paying it.” (Stuff, 2017).(Stuff, 2017)
If you really need to use wet wipes (particularly on babies), then dispose of them in a bin, otherwise, consider using reusable wipes that you can buy or DIY out of old clothes/fabric and wash just like cloth nappies, or a bidet attachment to the toilet cistern.
Waste management is such an expansive and complex issue that just buying all of the latest and fanciest zero-waste products isn’t going to fix everything. What needs to be addressed are our habits and behaviours that have created this problem in the first place – the most significant of which are overbuying and being motivated by convenience.
Changing behaviours and habits like those listed above will make a massive difference to the amount of waste you send to landfill, and they won’t cost you a cent. So get into it, nothing’s stopping you!