Disposable products and superfluous packaging has created a prominent issue that is affecting people all over the world. It churns through our natural resources, contributes enormously to landfill, and negatively impacts ecosystems and the organisms in the habitats, including humans.
Imagine 2.7 million tons of plastic. That’s how much is used just for the production of bottled water every year, most of which ends up in landfills, our seas and delicate ecosystems.
And even the tiniest amounts of plastic add up: each day we use 500 million disposable straws, enough to fill over 46,400 large school buses per year.
It’s not just plastic that is the issue, our drain on cardboard is affecting environments in a negative way too. Only 1 to 2 percent of original U.S. forests remain undisturbed.
Big Switch Projects say:
“If you and 9 other members of staff had one takeaway coffee every day of the week, by Friday you’d find 50 coffee cups in the bin. That might seem like a pretty obvious statement but it soon adds up. If they drink one coffee every working day of the year, by the end of December, they would have used 2600 disposable cups! That’s a lot of cups to dispose of.”
The average person living in a first world country consumes twice as much resources and produces twice as much garbage as people did 50 years ago. This is a phenomenal increase and needs to be addressed.
It is very difficult to eliminate packaging and disposable product usage altogether, and it borders on virtually impossible if you are living in an urban, industrial society, however steps can be taken to drastically reduce your waste footprint.
What you will need:
Reusable containers and cutlery, reusable bags
To speak out and raise awareness on the issue
Step 1. Immediately cease buying beverages and meals “to go”.
Reducing your use of food packaging is an immediate way to create positive change and is a habit that can be controlled with a mild flex of your willpower muscle.
Takeaway packaging is a very inefficient way of utilizing our resources, and you will find that this contributes largely to the issue, and may be the first hurdle you encounter on your way to going disposables-free. This will require some time management, because you will need to “eat in” at shops or prepare your own food at home using reusable packaging and bring it along with you.
If you regularly buy coffee on the go you should invest in a reusable coffee cup such as a Keep Cup. A Keep Cup can be recycled while a disposable cup can’t, uses less plastic in its 3 year lifespan than the plastic in the disposable lids you’d use in 3 years, and keep Cup users divert 3.5 billion plastic cups from going into landfill. It takes 15 coffees for a Keep Cup to break even with a disposable cup in terms of sustainability.
You should also carry around a small container that can hold food that you purchase. Some food stores will be happy to drop the food into your container instead of giving you a disposable one.
If you frequently have a sandwich or wrap for lunch, investing in a reusable wrap or pocket will keep your food clean and Glad Wrap usage.
Another positive side to giving up beverages and meals ‘to go’ is that you are able to savor the eating experience more, with metal cutlery and ceramic plates. The content of ‘eat-in’ meals is usually far more quality and nutrient-dense than pre-packaged, processed ‘on-the-go’ foods, which is better for your health.
Step 2. Change the way you shop for food.
Finish off all your individually wrapped foods, and your stash of disposable products. Next time you are at the supermarket, purchase items that aren’t individually wrapped, and buy in bulk to reduce packaging quantities. There are some exceptions to this rule. Vegetables, sliced meats and bread last 2-5 times longer when properly packaged instead of being stored naked, so overall this packaging is justified because it preserves food for longer and avoids you having to throw out spoiled food and contributing to our food waste issue!
Step 3. Change the way you shop for products
In 1932, Bernard London wrote an essay titled Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence, discussing the idea of designing products with an intended reduction in longevity to stimulate the economy. The phrase was popularised in the 50’s, and the act of designing with planned obsolescence took off, and is still hugely evident today, over 60 years later.
Technological lockout is another trick used in Industrial Design to get you to dispose of your current products. Instead of your product being able to be upgraded, you need to buy a new, updated version.
Avoid consuming products with planned obsolescence or technical lockout. Instead of purchasing a disposable product with a short lifespan or limitation in use, seek out and utilize their alternative, more sustainable counterpart. Look for products crafted from quality materials that can be upgraded, repaired and easily recycled. If a company offers a warranty, or has a take-back recycling program, consider their product as a more environmentally friendly candidate when looking to make a purchase. You may be tempted with the cheap price tags on throwaway items, but not only will you feel the difference in quality and user experience with a non-disposable, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are behaving in a responsible, thoughtful and ethical way.
Step 4. Avoid buying disposable, fast fashion
Perceived obsolescence is a phenomenon that can be witnessed in today’s society, particularly in the constantly changing, trend-driven field of fashion. Companies and advertising convince people that to be ‘cool’ and ‘in style’ you will be required to throw away your perfectly good clothes and replace them with more current products. Our need to fit in and be accepted by our peer groups and communities has a very strong psychological influence on our behaviour, something that marketers capitalize on to reach the effect of perceived obsolescence.
This causes huge environmental repercussions, including high water and energy consumption, resource depletion and waste generation. Studies show that it takes up to 98,000 liters of water to grow the cotton and run the machinery to make a pair of blue jeans.
Not only that, but slave labor of sweatshop workers in Asia are predominantly used to manufacture fashion items. Simply shop at more ethical shops and learn where your products are manufactured to combat this issue.
Step 5. Know the proper way to deal with disposables when you are faced with them
You will most likely be unable to escape all disposables, in which case you must know how to correctly discard of the waste. You will be able to acquire a recycling guide from your council, to ensure you are abiding to local recycling systems (For example, some councils do not accept packaging soiled with food, or containers where layers of paper, aluminium and plastic are fused together such as Tetra Paks or lolly wrappers)
Plastics bear numbers on them ranging from 1 to 7 to state which type of plastic they consist of. You can use these numbers to determine whether you can recycle it or not. Below is a table of the CHOICE guide to plastic recycling.
Step 6. Contact companies on their consumer feedback lines and politely complain about their superfluous packaging or poor quality products
Companies will not change unless the consumers pressure them to. Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts their consumption is having, which is currently creating a movement for eco-design.
With these steps in mind you can achieve a lifestyle of less waste and negative ecological impact, and create positive change.
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Big Switch Projects, Disposable Cofee Cups: Saving the Planet One Cup at a Time, http://www.bigswitchprojects.com.au/media/50648/the_coffee_cup_challenge.pdf
Eco-cycle, Be Straw Free Campaign: Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.ecocycle.org/bestrawfree/faqs
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