Zero Waste

7 June 2017

You know those times your grandparents start ranting about how everything was so incredibly superior back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? Well this time, they might be right. The Zero Waste Movement harks back to the days before individually wrapped fruit slices and floating plastic lined our oceans, encouraging a lifestyle where as little as possible ends up in your bin.

For all the things that plastic and other packaging has allowed, they contribute to the death of thousands of animals each year, have a significant impact on our environment by way of pollution and can take over a thousand years to break down. The recent campaign to #BantheBag, pushed by Clean Up Australia and The Project, has highlighted the worrying impact of single-use plastic bags – advocating for a ban in New South Wales, Western Australia and here in Victoria. Alisdair Wells of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tasmania (where the ban was implemented in 2013) explains that while there were initial worries the community might not get involved, most people “bring their bags to the supermarket or simply pay for re-usable bags at the counter”. Despite bans in most states, Australia still uses around 10 million bags every day. Many will end up in the sea as eight million metric tons of plastic waste does each year.

Clean Up Australia continues its two-decade fight to ban them nationally and Chief Executive, Terrie-Ann Johnson, believes we will see movement soon, now that more states are on board. Dale Martin from Plastic Bag Free Victoria explains that “Victoria is the only state in Australia to not bring in either a plastic bag ban or container deposit legislation in the last 10 years,” so change is certainly overdue.

Beyond plastic use, the Zero Waste Movement attempts to reduce waste of all materials, and to discard rubbish through recycling, upcycling or composting, rather than sending it to landfill. One of the most important ways to limit the rubbish you produce is to be aware of your waste. Lauren Singer, a New York based environmentalist, explains that this process of discovery “highlights specific trash problems” for which you can come up with an environmentally conscious alternative. Another mantra of the movement is one coined by Bea Johnson, a key personality within the Zero Waste world, that of the five R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. You’ll notice the movement isn’t just about recycling – it promotes a wider approach that begins with an honest re-evaluation of what we need. Melbourne advocate Erin Rhoads argues that recycling alone “is a Band-Aid solution,” in the sense that “while our recycling levels have increased, so has our consumption”.

I took it upon myself to look through some trash, because my life is very exciting. Here are some of the most common categories of rubbish produced by University Of Melbourne students and ways to reduce these types of waste.

Toiletries and Cosmetics
Many in the Zero Waste Movement do pretty well with bar soap, which can be bought package-free, as well as hair products bought in bulk or in recyclable bottles. Try out some homemade toothpaste and mouthwash to use with your compostable toothbrush. For special occasions you can even break out the beetroot juice blush or burnt almond mascara.

E-waste is often an element of rubbish we forget, so when the next iPhone version is out, ask yourself: do I need this? If your shopaholic tendencies get the best of you, make sure you look for your nearest technology drop-off facility before you update.

Both the production and the transport of clothing produces significant waste, so switch to op-shopping, which is good for the earth as well as your pocket. A capsule wardrobe full of versatile pieces is more economic and ethical than the trend-driven, ‘fast’ fashion alternative. Also, do you really need a third near-identical skirt? (From experience I know your brain is telling you yes, but it’s lying.)

Those Things We Just Don’t Need
Put up a no-junk mail sign and gift your friends experiences rather than things they’ll never use.

Newspapers and Books
As much as I love the feel of unfolding the morning paper across 10 different tables, I have recently been converting to electronic versions. If that seems too drastic a measure, there is always the library or you can share amongst your friends.

Broken Umbrellas
Make a rain jacket for your dog! (Gorman eat your heart out.)

Cleaning Products
The news is out, you don’t actually need ten types of bleach and a lifetime supply of disinfecting wipes. Some vinegar, dish soap and essential oils can clean most surfaces, along with a microfibre cloth to replace the disposable wipes. Melbourne-resident that you are, you can scrub your coffee grounds with some soap on grimy baking trays to leave them sparkly and fresh. See the housewives of Pinterest for more DIY cleaning gold.

Sanitary Products
Check out the large range of sustainable alternatives to traditional products, from sustainable cotton pads and tampons, to reusable cloth pads. Menstrual cups in particular are growing in popularity and in the long run can save you some serious dosh.

Food and Drink
Ditch the evil that is the plastic bottle and get a reusable one instead. You can buy package-free veggies and fruit at a farmers’ market and in most supermarkets. Pantry essentials, meat and dairy can be bought from delis and wholefood stores and packaged in jars. There are several zero or limited waste stores popping up around Melbourne so definitely check those out, and when you must buy something packaged, recycle or reuse. Last but certainly not least, compost your food waste and make some wormy friends!

Evidently this isn’t something one can adopt overnight and it may be more difficult for some than others, especially if you rely on plastic packaged medications or if your budget is tight. However, there are little changes that everyone can make to increasingly cut down on waste and after some initial investments in items you can reuse, like cloth napkins or a stainless steel drink bottle, they very quickly pay for themselves. While we get ever closer to banning one of the major pollutants in Australia, the plastic bag, make like your grandparents and begin your own Zero Waste journey today.

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