a person from feet to waist holding a re-usable bag full of fruit.

With Zero Waste Week here for 2021, Student Engagement Ambassador Florencia Botta gives us some tips to help reduce our waste and learn more about Zero Waste.

Happy Zero Waste Week!

This week is dedicated to bringing awareness to the Zero Waste movement. I thought it would be a good idea to share some information and tips you can implement in your everyday life to reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.

What does Zero Waste mean? Well, as it was a little bit implied before, the Zero Waste movement has gained popularity in recent years as a resource to stop and prevent the future destruction of the environment. The main idea is to change how we consume and dispose of things to create a sustainable cycle.

There is a lot of information about zero waste out there. Regretfully, not all of it is correct. In this blog, I share some tips about what you can do about it. I will also leave some links for further information.

Zero Waste can refer to two things: Zero Waste to Landfill and the more general Zero Waste movement. The first one seeks to reduce what ends up in a landfill, while the latter includes not only reducing waste but also altering the way we produce and consume in general(1). For this, it is necessary to consider the entire process which leads to every product in our lives.

The university uses a set of rules I find useful: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

What does it mean?

REDUCE

Firstly, the most important thing to do is to reduce consumption. This is the easiest way to reduce waste. There are many ways you can reduce your consumption. These are some of them:

  • Reduce consumption of services like electricity and water. This can be done through actions like; turning off lights and idle appliances when not being used (including computer monitors); fixing/reporting water leaks; reducing shower time and washing cycles; avoid leaving the tap running unnecessarily, avoid using gas stoves; seeking appliances that consume less and trying to make your home more energy-efficient.
  • Reduce meat and dairy consumption as it has a large carbon footprint.
  • Reduce travel by plane and car. These also have a large carbon footprint. It is preferable to use public transport, cycle or walk.
  • Reduce consumption of non-local products. Many products, although more sustainable, end up having a large carbon footprint due to being shipped around the world. This also happens with subscription services which are so popular nowadays. For this purpose, it is preferable to buy at stores and seek products produced locally. This is not always possible, of course, but it is something to keep in mind.
  • Reduce the consumption of single-use plastics and fast fashion. These generate a lot of waste which is hardly ever recycled. They also generate microplastics, which contaminate water.
  • Try to use items you have (appliances, cars, etc.) as much as you can before discarding or donating or sharing things you own to prevent having to buy more.
  • Avoid cryptocurrency and NFTs. There is a lot of debate about how much these currencies consume(2). However, in my opinion, based on what I have researched, they still create a substantial carbon footprint. Furthermore, many mines take advantage of government subsidies meant for domestic use, hurting local economies(3).
  • Reduce microplastics by avoiding clothing made of synthetic fibres and buying eco-friendly cosmetics.

REUSE

If you must consume, you can try reusing materials. This can be done by buying used goods and donating/selling your own instead of tossing them away. Some ways you can reuse items are:

  • Buy refurbished phone/electronics. Electronic waste is a huge problem. Regretfully, the industry foments constant discard and purchase of new items. This has caused harm not only to the environment but also to smaller economies. Many of the countries where some of the materials necessary to make electronics are the target of exploitation. You can also donate or sell your old electronics to stores that refurbish/recycle them.
  • Similarly, you can do this for clothes, furniture, and household items. Websites like com, Facebook Marketplace, Don’t Dump it Berkshire and second-hand charities like Oxfam, The British Heart Foundation and Sue Ryder are some places you can go.
  • Use apps like Olio and Too Good To Go to rescue food meant to be discarded. This is also a great way to save money.

RECYCLE

When it is not possible to reuse, sometimes you must discard things. The last thing to do is to recycle.

  • Educate yourself about how to recycle where you live. Regretfully, the UK does not have a standardised recycling system, so it is imperative to check locally. The university has places to discard plastic bottles, paper, paper cups, and even food.
  • Check the items you own. What kind of plastic is it? Can it be recycled here?
  • Make sure to put everything in the right spot. Throwing non-recyclable waste in the recycling bin can contaminate the whole bin forcing it to be discarded entirely.
  • Recyclable is not the same thing as biodegradable. Biodegradable items should be composted, not placed in the recyclable bin.
  • Make sure to put food waste and biodegradable items in the food waste bin to be composted. Make sure the food is compostable. When you throw a biodegradable item in the general rubbish bin, you don’t know what will happen with it. General rubbish can be burnt or go to a landfill where the conditions are not optimal for proper biodegradation. For this purpose, it is imperative to throw food waste/biodegradable items in the appropriate bin. Find more info about composting here.
  • Some items like coffee pods, writing instruments, and plastic bags can be recycled in some places. Recycle-more Is a great site to seek more information about specific recycling spots in the UK.

Some things to keep in mind:

Avoid “wishcycling“. Many people want to help and end up putting things that are not recyclable in the recyclable bin. This can include, for example, non-recyclable plastics or containers contaminated with grease and food (which makes them non-recyclable in the UK(4)). Doing this contaminates the whole bin and, in some cases, might force the recycling centres to discard it entirely. To avoid it, please do your research!

Even if you do everything correctly, UK has a recycling crisis, and only a small percentage of what’s discarded is recycled. This is why it is fundamental to reduce and reuse.

Don’t fall for scams! Many corporations are getting wise to the issue of environmentalism and wish to capitalise on it. However, no real action is taken. Words like sustainable and environmentally friendly don’t have an official definition, so they are carelessly thrown around for profit. Please do your research! Are they taking action or just greenwashing and making their products seem eco when they are not?

Individual actions are extremely important. However, the latest IPCC Report shows this alone cannot change things and more drastic change is necessary. It is imperative then to have substantial structural change at an institutional level. This includes governments and large corporations. Empty pledges to change in 20 years are not good enough. For this, it is imperative to campaign, spread the word, and protest. Call your MP and express your concerns so that they know they are a priority. Without pressure, nothing will happen!

Don’t judge! Regretfully, capitalism has gentrified sustainability. This means that not everyone has the same opportunities to reduce their waste and carbon footprint. Some people cannot access it due to money restraints, living in food deserts, or simply not having the time to seek the most environmentally friendly options. Judging people is not only unfair but also not productive. This is why it is imperative to implement new legislation that favours renewable energy and an environmentally friendly agenda. This way more people can access a more sustainable cycle of consumption.

Finally, please remember; It is ok not to be perfect. Truly being Zero Waste is almost impossible in this society. However, this is not a reason to stop altogether. Many advocates state that it is preferable to have lots of people trying their best rather than only one who managed to be zero waste. I believe the most important thing is to change your attitude toward consumption. To keep researching and learning how the production cycle works to find the best ways to make it more efficient and friendly to the planet and, of course, keep campaigning for a meaningful change!

Stay tuned to our UoR Student Life Instagram account on Monday 6 September for more tips!

Further reading:

 

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