Wasting Away – Reducing Your Waste Trail

Humans seem to be extremely good at producing waste, whether it be physical rubbish, water or energy, we manage to waste an extraordinary amount every year. This has become a major issue worldwide and the statistics can be extremely shocking: for example as of 2013, half of all food is wasted worldwide, according to the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME). Hopefully this guide will help you understand how important it is to reduce the amount we waste and maybe give you a couple of helpful suggestions for what you can do. Remember, one of the most important actions you can take is to educate others with such information, so don’t forget to share with others the knowledge you may pick up here. 

*Animal agriculture is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, causes of waste in the world using massive amounts of water and energy, and producing huge amounts of physical waste, so adopting a vegan diet is the most logical action to take to reduce waste, you can learn more about this here.*

Physical Waste

The amount of physical waste produced globally is over 1.3 billion tonnes every year, which is an absolutely staggering amount, and by 2025 this number is expected to have doubled. Even with the increasing focus on recycling, most waste is simply thrown into landfill where it stays for many years (plastics take hundreds of years to decompose) producing noxious gases and causing harm to everything around it.

Even waste that you think is okay because it is ‘organic’ (such as food and paper) has an adverse effect on the environment when simply thrown into landfill. This is because biodegradable material breaks down under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen) in landfill, which creates large amounts of methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change. This organic material would actually be useful if utilised properly, as it could be used as an effective growth medium (compost). This would make use of many valuable nutrients in the organic waste that would otherwise be lost.

Waste is an indicator of overproduction and inefficient use of resources, which is particularly important in a world where natural capital is becoming ever more valuable. Therefore we should be focusing on ways to reuse and recycle materials, and keep the amount of waste we produce at an absolute minimum. Governments are working to use more economical methods of waste disposal, as well as encouraging the industries that produce the most (such as construction, which is currently the largest source of waste in the UK) to take part in more schemes to become more sustainable. However, relying solely on a top down approach to environmental change is unwise, we should also be taking action at a household level and encouraging a bottom up approach.

Reducing your waste trail can be fun and challenging, but very rewarding! Most of the time it comes down to individual effort and common sense, but here are some examples of things you could be thinking about (I don’t have to mention the usual reuse bags, charity shops etc.):

  • Try and buy products that are reusable, refillable or even returnable rather than single use items
  • Buying in bulk not only saves on packaging, but also money (but be wary of items with ‘double packaging’ i.e. individually wrapped items sold in bulk)
  • Buy things like dish soap and laundry detergents in concentrate forms (My favourite cleaning products are made by ecover)
  • Opt for electronic versions your normal post (such as bills etc.), and reduce the amount of junk mail you receive
  • Buy items made of recycled materials, and try to reuse as much as you can, almost everything has a use
  • Start your own compost heap, check out this website for tips on keeping a healthy compost heap: Eden Project – How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips
Saving Water

Water is the most precious resource available to us. It may seem as though we have an abundance of water since we live on the blue planet, but did you know that only 1% of the world’s water is actually usable by humans? The rest is salt water or is frozen so can’t be used for everyday consumption. Not only is water precious to humans, but to animals and plants as well, they rely on the it to survive, so we have to make sure there is enough for us all. With this in mind, the ever growing human population is putting a greater strain on this limited resource, so we should do everything we can to reduce the amount we use. 

We are using water faster than the water cycle can replenish it; it normally spends years being filtered through underground rocks and springs before it ever reaches the surface again, so we need to give the earth time to catch up. Here’s a quick reminder of the details of the water cycle:

waste - 'Water cycle' by John M. Even / USGS via Wikimedia Commons

There are loads of easy ways to reduce the amount of water you use, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to physical devices that can help you to lower your consumption. It can be quite difficult to remember some things to begin with, but just keep trying and you’ll be a water saving pro in no time! Here are some examples of things you can do (again, simple common sense should be applied):

  • The usual taking shorter showers, not leaving taps running etc.
  • Keep a jug of water in the fridge (don’t waste water waiting for the tap to get cold)
  • Put a water displacer in your toilet cistern (or use a pint glass)
  • Be clever with appliances, for example fully loading washing machines or only putting the water you need in a kettle
  • Collect rainwater in a water butt for your garden
Conserving Energy

In a world of increasing technology and energy usage, it seems that many of us forget where our power comes from. The electricity that powers our homes is normally generated by the burning of fossil fuels in large coal or gas power stations. These stations are an extreme environmental hazard, however they supply our demands, meaning the more energy we waste, the harder these stations have to work to meet our needs.

Even though there have been huge advancements in renewable energy technology, the rising demand for power will become too much too quickly if we don’t act responsibly. By saving energy and calling for further development of renewables, we can pave the way to a clean and sustainable future. Saving energy (and water) can be a win-win situation, not only reducing waste, but saving you money on utility bills in the process. Saving energy can be as simple as turning off lights that don’t need to be on, making sure appliances aren’t on standby and (just like the saving water tip) using appliances efficiently. However, you can also conserve energy by maximising the effectiveness of your home, for example energy efficient bulbs or keeping heat inside with double glazing, draught excluders etc. Some energy providers even distribute small devices that display how much energy is being used in your home, which can be very helpful in hitting a target usage (so give them a call or visit their website to find out).

Spreading the Word

I hope you know a little more about why reducing your waste is important, and I hope you appreciate that this article was more about the whys than the hows. Educating people is one of the most important aspects of environmentalism, so spreading the knowledge should be just as important in your waste minimising mission as the physical actions you take, so thank you for reading!

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Water Cycle: ‘Water cycle‘ by John M. Even / USGS via Wikimedia Commons

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