This is now the third time that I’ve tried to write this post about the issue of waste in Australia and what needs to happen for us to transition to a circular economy. I’m now at a point where this may not appear as a coherent whole because my feelings on this matter are very strong and trying to articulate the complexity of this issue is very challenging while keeping my emotions in check. What I want to start with discussing is that we are continually finding a disconnect between 3 groups of people which we need to reconcile if we are to get something very simple right in Australia - recycling.
The first group includes myself. Zero-wasters/low wasters/environmental activists/ people who are even somewhat remotely interested in recycling. We feel betrayed with the recent announcement of the Redcycle problem. It’s the same problem we are seeing over and over and over again. Where a company fails to deliver on the promises of recycling that it makes for one reason or another. Not to mention we felt the same betrayal not 5 or so years ago when we found out that some councils (e.g. Ipswich) were not recycling anything at all from our home recycling bins. Some of that was to do with the issue of China not buying our waste anymore. We feel betrayed every time we try to do the right thing but don’t have the infrastructure and support to do what we can. Some zero-wasters like myself have tried for a long time to completely skip the recycling step all together and seek other methods of managing waste. Unfortunately, in my efforts to go vegan this year, I been completely unsuccessful in getting this right.
The second group of people are the people who are viewed by those in the first group as ‘completely uncaring, selfish, uneducated, arrogant, ignorant etc’. The people who mix up organic matter in the recycling bin and ruin the whole thing. Or those who know that recycling exists and choose not to do it. As a member of the first group, I always try to give the members of t
he second group the benefit of the doubt and try to educate as much as possible.
The third group are our politicians and owners of waste management facilities. Those who are ultimately responsible for the infrastructure that the first group are calling for. Those who blame members of the second group for some of the reasons why we cannot manage waste properly. But ultimately, this group requires engineering, entrepreneurship, innovation, education and collaboration in order to move into a circular economy. People from the first group want the third group to do more. People from the third group need to communicate better with people from the first and second group about how we can all help.
We need a sit down. We need some sacrifices made. We need people to make this work. So that is the first part of my ‘rant’ for want of a better word, over. The second part is about the broader issues surrounding waste – not just recycling. As well as the boarder issue of the environment – truly everything is connected.
This year marks the fourth year where my husband and I have strived to live a zero-waste lifestyle. After 4 years, there have been multiple factors that have changed our perspective and unfortunately, we have had to ‘relax’ the pressure on ourselves to be zero-waste. Despite all this, we are doing more and more now for the environment than we ever have before.
The first thing that happened was COVID. in 2020 our efforts to be zero-waste were very much impacted. Shops were not accepting our containers. Supply of some items was very much impacted. My husband especially was impacted at work because he had to use a disposable mask every single day. So, we were forced to use single-use plastics for the sake of the health of the country.
The second thing that happened was that our favourite shop to buy food in closed …. Due to COVID. We lost our ability to conveniently shop zero-waste. We now must travel further and go to larger shopping centres that are very busy, or we have to order online, which somewhat defeats the purpose of being zero-waste as it is. We are still striving to find alternatives, but it was like losing our closest friends, we were devastated.
The third thing that had impacted on us (although not to a great extent) was that soft-plastics can no longer be recycled. The Red-cycle problem. We weren’t buying a lot of items in soft-plastics, but we would often have soft-plastics left at our house by friends who came over. I was just about to start pushing for more soft plastic recycling at work as well.
The fourth thing that we have found very hard to rec
oncile, is the transition to a more plant-based diet. Many plant-based items are only available in plastic packaging. The biggest example is soy-based products like tofu and soy milk. I tried to make soy milk by hand, which is achievable, but extremely time consuming and expensive. I definitely need a ‘middle path’ here.
But one of the things that really has changed resulted from the auditing processes we have done on our emissions within the home. Our waste (even at its height) is not the largest carbon polluter in our house. It is our cars.
This year, we decided to buy a second-hand electric car. As a result, we had a charging port put in the house. Next year my hope is to be able to ride my bike and catch public transport to work which will also dramatically decrease our emissions. We installed a solar hot water system which meant we could finally get rid of our gas. Again, reducing our emissions. To help reduce our water consumption we also installed a tank and toilets that flushing using the water from our handwashing. Our time, energy and effort have been very much focused in emissions reductions at home.
Not that I’m an expert on Australian politics/policy etc. But these would be my top 5
1. Make EV’s more affordable. Just stop taxing them and tax fuel instead. To be honest, those big in oil are just going to have to take a financial hit in order to pull the rest of the world who are suffering out of this crisis.
2. To support this transition to emissions reduction with our transport, work on the whole public transport thing. Support other little initiatives as well like walking and riding to school or work. Or carpooling.
3. Get a proper nation-wide recycling program going. Actually, recycle what can be recycled and sell this to companies that have use for them instead of having them buy from overseas. And communicate how to recycle very clearly.
4. To support this transition we also need to support supermarkets/grocery stores/small food retailers in developing the means for people to bring what they have from home, fill it with what they need and pay for that they buy. This goes for pantry goods, cleaning products, condiments, nut butters, oils and anything else that could be put into a jar/bottle/container. And do all this with the aim to increase the amount of vegan products available and reduce the amount of meat consumed.
5. Have a look at the healthcare system and see what can be done in that space in relation to minimising plastic waste without compromising personal hygiene and safety.
This will help to usher in what will begin to look like a more circular economy, waste can be seen as a resource that we can use, rather than just a by-product. Our culture will change dramatically. We will begin to truly reflect on where everything comes from, what it is used for and what happens when it’s life ends. To make this transition quickly we need to be more aggressive. We need to push. We need to be strong. Like a mother giving birth to something new. Our body’s- the very culture and fabric of our country needs to change and adapt in the moment to bring forth new life. It will hurt. Nothing that changes so drastically is every painless, but it is the sacrifice we must make.