Zero-waste movement is gaining traction, but there’s still a long way to go
Consumer-driven mentality means we are constantly accumulating things, but there is growing feeling that we should be striving toward a no-waste home, and not only focusing on recycling.
The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is spot on: First, try not to bring material into the home to start with, and what is consumed should be given a second life or carefully thrown away.
While recycling is important, we should be working toward producing no waste at all, says Robyn Smith, founder and director of Faithful to Nature, an online eco-conscious shop.
“Recycling is yesterday’s solution. By 2050 the mass of plastic in the ocean will be greater than the mass of fish. Not everyone recycles responsibly and when we do, we are still creating waste of some form. Plus, it takes a huge amount of water to produce plastic in the first place and to recycle. It is a more elegant solution to just reduce our waste in the first place.
“The most sustainable way forward is for us to change purchasing habits. Don’t leave home without reusable bags and your reusable coffee cup.”
Experts agree cans and glass are the way to go if you have to buy packaged items. Recycling tin saves about 95% of the energy needed to make a new can from iron ore. Whether they are crushed, rusted or burnt, cans can be recycled.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s Responsible Tourism Manual, recycling a glass bottle saves enough electricity to light a 100W bulb for four hours. For every ton of glass recycled, 1.2 tons of raw materials and 114 litres of oil energy are saved.
In addition to reducing household waste, we can re-use.
“Shop at second-hand stores, and buy used and unused clothes at low cost. Swop clothes with friends. Buy quality clothing to hand down,” says Smith.
Responsible consumerism and the not-so-fantastic plastic
Smith says one of the biggest problems is the over-use of single-use plastic.
“People need to start saying no to straws and over-packaging. Another way to move toward a plastic-free lifestyle is by buying food in bulk.
“Start noticing how items are wrapped. Avoid individually wrapped items such as snack packs and single-serve containers. Be aware of double-packaging – some ‘bulk packages’ are individually wrapped items packaged yet again and sold as a bulk item. Choose items packaged in paper or cardboard over plastic. Some suppliers are even opting for completely biodegradable packaging,” says Smith.
According to Treevolution, a recycling resource website, consumers should look to buy products made from recycled material.
If there’s a demand for recycled plastic products, for example, more plastic will be recycled and less will end up in landfills or polluting the oceans, and less virgin material will have to be mined or grown.
Faithful to Nature is launching a new category that helps online buyers select items using ecospecifics.
“We have categorised all 11000 ethical products we stock into which ones are 100% plastic-free. We are launching this with articles on how to help people create a zero-waste home.”
Smith says the zero-waste movement is gaining traction in many circles, but there is still a way to go.
“Ultimately we need our leaders to follow the example of many other African and European nations by banning plastic bags.”
Converting your household to zero-waste is the ideal, but if you have other items to recycle, try to do so responsibly.
Appliances have always been a problem to recycle so start by investing in household machines that will last longer and are made from recycled materials to soften your eco footprint.
In 2015 Pikitup launched Bulky Waste Service removal, free of charge. The service aims to divert recyclable waste away from landfill sites. Residents who want to dispose of bulky waste, such as old mattresses, furniture and appliances, should contact their nearest Pikitup depots.
Paper recycling is also successful and South Africa has a recycling rate of about 66%. Every metric ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees and uses 40% less energy and 50% less water, according to the Paper Recycling Company.
“We encourage and educate the nation by reducing, reusing and recycling paper, plastic, cardboard and now liquid cartons too. We are saving the environment by diverting refuse away from landfill sites, and we are creating sustainable jobs in the process,” says Mpact paper recycling company communications manager, Donna Noble.
They service close to 200000 homes in Joburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane when they do weekly collections of their popular “Ronnie Bags” from the pavements. Collected items include paper, old memos, flattened cardboard, newspapers, magazines and junk mail and all can be recycled.
freecycle.org is a community-based sharing platform where members can exchange unused goods for something they need.
Their mission is to build a worldwide sharing movement to reduce waste, save precious resources and ease the burden on landfills. They encourage this through the development of communities.
According to The e-Waste Association of South Africa, e-waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity of some substances if processed improperly.
e-Waste is “anything that runs on electricity”. This includes computers, entertainment electronics, mobile phones and items such as spent fluorescent tubes, batteries and discarded battery-operated toys, which give off carcinogens and toxic waste, so responsible disposal is vital.
“While there is no generally accepted definition of e-waste, in most cases it consists of expensive and more or less durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in private households and businesses,” says Keith Anderson, chief executive of e-Waste.
The toxicity is due in part to lead, mercury, cadmium and a number of other substances. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, says Anderson.
Keep it on site
Vegetable gardens are gaining in popularity with organic cooking making heritage plants and home-grown produce the trendiest new ingredient.
“Grow your own food. This way you are completely empowered to know exactly what is in the food you are eating. And food from your own garden does not need to be packaged,” says Smith.
Food scraps can also be kept on the premises by composting them, either using small organic composters like the Bokashi bin or creating a large outside heap for all the biodegradable cuttings from the kitchen.
Household paint is one of the most energy-consuming building products, according to Cape Town’s Green Map.
The map also warns that more people die in house fires from toxic fumes than from smoke itself.
Good quality, water-based or low-solvent paints, glues, varnishes and preservatives offer reasonable alternatives.