As Plastic Free July hits for another year, I am becoming hyper aware of the plastic I consume and the alternatives available. This ‘zero waste mindset’ is something I see more and more people adopting in their lives. I was on a walking tour in Madrid recently and started chatting to a French woman about plastic waste. She spoke about her journey to zero waste and shared how her mindset has changed over time. Instead of not thinking about what she consumes, she now thinks about how many ways she can use it. If it is only once, she refuses.
It was so inspiring to hear her talk about how she is making changes in her life and how it all started with becoming aware of the problem.
A new mindset and culture of people around the world is required for us to truly beat the waste issue. In Australia, the ABC series, The War on Waste has been a catalyst for changing mindsets. Every time I see Craig Reucassel on a screen I want to give him some prestigious award for the amazing work he has done to increase the awareness of our waste problem. Everything from individual changes of coffee cup consumption to hospitals changing their waste practices, the War on Waste team has really kicked off a strong conversation leading to action. However, there is still so much we can do to continue this momentum.
The Circular Economy
One term that is important to understand and implement in the waste conversation is the circular economy. It has emerged as an important social and economic model to reduce waste and restore the equilibrium between consumption and nature. It is most simply defined as a way to move away from single use products and towards an economic system the redefines growth, reuses products and rebuilds overall health of people and planet.
It is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
Here is a great video by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explaining the circular economy.
How is it different to other methods?
The linear economy is the one we all know well. We buy something, use it and chuck the remainder in the bin which ends up in landfill.
The recycling economy is a step closer which focuses on reusing materials through recycling activities, however still leads to waste especially with poor recycling infrastructure.
The circular economy starts with the principles of understanding natural systems so the materials can be regenerated at the end of the life cycle. This moves away from plastic as a main material and shifts towards naturally based products that can break down.
One of my favourite things about the circular economy is that is focuses on solutions of consumption and design innovation.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ‘Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.’
Here is a helpful graphic looking at the 3 different economies.
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Representación gráfica de lo que se intenta cambiar con el estilo de vida zero waste . Estamos intentando cambiar la economía lineal por una economía circular 🔄 . Qué es una economía lineal? Es el estilo de vida al que estamos acostumbrados desde que nacimos. Producir, comprar, tirar. Estamos acostumbrados a tirar miles de productos que duran días o minutos en nuestras manos y CIENTOS de años en el planeta. Es nuestra responsabilidad romper esta cadena cambiando nuestros hábitos y aplicando las 4 R: Reducir, Reutilizar, Reparar, ♻️Reciclar . Tengamos en mente que es IMPOSIBLE no generar basura, no hay una manera correcta o perfecta de hacer esto y cada quien debe de empezar a hacer sus cambios a su paso y con alternativas que se adapten con su persona. Si intentamos cambiar nuestro estilo de vida de un día para otro nos abrumaremos y acabaremos haciendo nada. Empieza por lo que se te haga más fácil cambiar! 😄 . Todos los días tomamos decisiones, todos los días tenemos la oportunidad de poner nuestro granito de arena. Tomémos decisiones que apoyen al medio ambiente💚📷 @allmyeco #uncaminoverdemx #zerowaste #sinplastico #ecofriendly #plasticfree #zerowastemexico #lifewithoutplastic #sinbasura #lesswaste #zerowastecollective #nohayplanetab #mty #reciclar #lessplastic #plasticplanet #ceroresiduos #ceroplastico #cerobasura #economiacircular #circulareconomy
5 Ways To Get Circular At Home
1. Say No!
The most important part of the circular economy is to say no to waste producing items first. Instead of buying groceries wrapped in plastic, head to a farmers market for fresh vegetables and take your own containers to bulk food stores. Using less is ultimately the answer for long term sustainability of our planet, however it can be difficult when businesses continue to use single use products in their design. That is why the circular economy needs both business and consumers to work together. The most powerful thing consumers can do is to refuse to purchase products and petition against companies who continue harmful practices.
According to Living Circular by Veolia, ‘The circular economy not only calls for a change in production patterns, but also for a new way of consuming. Responsible consumption – purchasing products or services that are more environmentally friendly and made under fair social conditions – is based on several principles: buying only when necessary, getting information and making deliberate choices such as eating only fruit and vegetables that are in season and are produced close to home, eating sustainably fished fish, buying fair trade products and food with little packaging, and wearing organic cotton clothes made in Europe.’
Some great tips to make small changes with a big impact.
2. Bring Back the Milkperson
Some of the greatest frustrations about trying to live a zero waste lifestyle is the incessant use of plastics in daily items. Back in the day, the local milkperson would bring milk to the door and collect old glass bottles for reuse. These models are starting to pop up again, with Loop as an example in the US. Walgreens and Kroger have partnered to create a new system where durable, reusable containers are delivered and picked up from consumers’ houses. Some of their brands include Pantene, The Body Shop, Dove, Gillette, Tropicana and others.
It is a brilliant concept. Shop online, get the delivery, leave out the used bottles, get them picked up and then they are reused. Check out the video here explaining it further.
If you don’t live in an area that has Loop, then don’t worry because their parent company, Terracycle is global. In Australia, they have a range of free recycling programs. It is not quite circular in design like Loop, however they have a range of recycling programs for things that often slip through the cracks like bread bag clips, beauty products, coffee pods and even Woolworth’s new collectibles, ‘Ooshie’ range. There are also some ranges including L’occitane and Jurlique recycling programs so you can post the plastic products back so they can reuse them and you get a 10% discount.
See all the programs available from Terracycle Australia here.
3. Compost at Home
This is one of the most common ways to implement circular design at home. Creating a system to allow natural products like food waste and biodegradable items, like some plastics which must be plant based and not degradable. Degradable plastics actually just break into smaller pieces and does not compost. Check out this awesome article by 1MillionWomen about the difference between degradable, compostable and biodegradable products.
I previously lived in a small apartment in Melbourne and we had a compost system on our balcony. It didn’t smell and worked well and was based on composting with worms. It is possible to have an efficient compost system in a small place and I have heard that some local apartment blocks are buying bigger compost systems and collectively using them in the complex.
Bokashi is a great brand with a variety of sizes.
The real benefit of composting is that is creates an environment that doesn’t cause methane and other harmful gases in the breakdown process. If food scraps go to landfill, the conditions lead them to create methane which is 20 times the global warming capacity to carbon dioxide. So, it is bad news!! According to Business Recycling, ‘Food waste is estimated to cost the Australian economy around $20 billion each year. Australian consumers throw away around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food a year. Another 2.2 million tonnes is disposed by the commercial and industrial sector. If food waste is recycled, the valuable organic matter and nutrients contained within them can be recaptured. Methane and other biogases can also be captured and used to generate electricity.’
In Sweden and other places around the world, food scraps are being used to create biogas that fuels local buses and other sources. One Stockholm local told me that their daughter’s school sent off their food waste to be used to make biogas to fuel their local school bus!
4. Repair and Have Parties
If your shoes need a new sole, don’t throw them out. Take them to a classic cobbler and get them fixed. It may not seem as fun as buying something new, but it is what we need to do.
Learn how to use a needle and thread. Find friends who know how to fix things. Get your friends together with some wine, cheese and all the things you need to be fixed. You can learn from each other. Imagine having an electrician learning to sew and a carpenter learning how to darn some socks. Repairing products together can be fun and an opportunity to learn something new.
The Restart Project is an amazing social enterprise in London who focus on repairing electronics. They have regular parties and want to spread their movement around the world. From their website, ‘We run regular Restart Parties where people teach each other how to repair their broken and slow devices – from tablets to toasters, from iPhones to headphones. We work with schools and organisations to help them value and use their electronics for longer. And we use the data and stories we collect to help demand better, more sustainable electronics for all. The Restart Project was born in 2013 out of our frustration with the throwaway, consumerist model of electronics that we’ve been sold, and the growing mountain of e-waste that it’s leaving behind. By bringing people together to share skills and gain the confidence to open up their stuff, we give people a hands-on way of making a difference, as well as a way to talk about the wider issue of what kind of products we want.’
The Restart Project also has a great podcast which you can listen to here. Check out their video here and learn how to get a local Restart party happening:
5. Hit the Op Shops
Op shops are an absolute gold mine for quality pieces of used clothing. In the world of fast fashion, there is nothing better than taking a moment to slow down a find a gem in a thrift shop.
The downsides to Op shops is that often the items you ‘need’ are not there and it can take time to dig around to find items. However, this is ultimately the mindset we need to adopt in order to stop the deluge of fast fashion. Taking time to find quality pieces and then holding on to them, repairing them and maximising the use of the product is what is required to shift the mindset.
Also, look for natural fabrics in Op shops (and mainstream shops) like cotton, wool (NOT polyester). Polyester is not a good idea. According to Ecocult, ‘Polyester is a synthetic petroleum-based fibre, and is therefore made from a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource. Petroleum products are used as feedstock (raw material to make the fibre) and also used to generate the energy needed to manufacture. More than 70 billion barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year. It is not bio-degradable and will persist in the eco-system even as it eventually breaks apart. In fact, it is believed that synthetic garments are the biggest source of microplastic pollution in the oceans because up to 1900 fibres can be washed off one garment every time it is washed.’
Moving the conversation from recycling to refusing products is a key first step for the circular economy. When purchasing something, take a zero waste mindset and think ‘what will happen when I finish with this?’ If the answer is landfill or even recycling, refuse it.
If you cannot refuse, try to think of all the ways you can continue the life of that product. For example, instead of buying pasta sauce in a can or in plastic, buy it in glass and then reuse the glass jar to store food like lentils or dried nuts that you get from the local bulk food store.
Taking an extra moment to consider the implications of the products we use is a way to stop this ‘disposable’ capitalist mindset.
What is one thing you can do today to be more circular and less linear? Comment below and share on your social media.
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