Treading My Own Path, Rethinking Waste and the Two New Kids

Fact of the Week: In 2012 UK Supermarkets gave out 8.1 billion plastic bags, with the average shopper using 11 a month.


Are you an avid recycler? Do you take pride in seeing your recycling bin brimming with glass, steel, aluminium and paper? What if I told you that recycling was yesterday’s news(papers), and there are some new kids on the block?

Lindsay MilesMy name’s Lindsay I’m a green living advocate, writer and educator, and I write the blog www.treadingmyownpath.com. I’m really excited to be guest blogging here at the Ethical Superstore over the coming weeks and sharing my passion of all things ethical and green!

Whilst I’ve always been passionate about sustainability, my path really changed two years ago when I watched the documentary Bag It!, about an average American who takes a closer look at our love affair with plastic. It made me realise that environmentalism and sustainability isn’t just about big picture stuff like “saving the rainforests”. Knowing about the issues isn’t enough; we also need to act. It is as much about the little things we do and the choices we make every day. Collectively our choices have massive consequences, and if we make them wisely, we have the power to bring about real, positive change.

The great thing is there are so many ways that we can make a difference. Rethinking waste is one of the easiest. Waste is something we all have in common. We buy stuff, we use it and then we throw it away. Rubbish – literally! I had always been a responsible recycler…until I realised that recycling wasn’t the green solution I’d always thought. It’s not about recycling more… it’s about wasting less.
“Reduce, re-use, recycle” is a mantra we’ve all become familiar with: the 3 “R”s. Well, there are now two new kids on the block.
Meet the five “R”s: REFUSE, reduce, re-use, REPAIR, recycle.

Refuse: The first question to ask is do I need this at all? Think single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, disposable cutlery, takeaway coffee cups and plastic water bottles. This isn’t about using less but making a stand and refusing altogether. Say no, particularly to disposables, and bring you own. Can you switch to reusable bags, request no straw or carry your own reusable coffee cup or water bottle?

Reduce: This is about consuming only what we need, and taking only what we’ll use. It sounds straightforward, but throw in clever marketing and multibuy offers and we often end up buying more than we really intended to! Why else would UK households throw away 4.2 million tonnes of food and drink every year? That’s 6 meals every week for an average household! (Source: WRAP UK)

Re-use: Heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t buy a new one either! Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for finding new uses for old objects. If you can’t reuse something, try to donate it to someone else who can. Consider too: when purchasing something new, choose things that are made well and built to last.

Repair: …And if it is broke, then do fix it! This isn’t always easy: maybe it requires skills and knowledge we don’t have, and some companies prefer us to buy new products and make it hard (or expensive) to get replacement parts. Repair Café run get-togethers where you can learn how to fix broken items, or you can look online at sites like www.howtofixyourstuff.com.

Recycle: Our goal shouldn’t be to recycle as much as possible, it should actually be to recycle as little as possible. It goes without saying that recycling is better than landfill, but it’s still an energy-intensive and time-consuming process. Don’t get me wrong; we should definitely still be recycling! However, there are so many points of intervention before we even get to recycling, it really should be seen as a last resort.
We all have different circumstances, beliefs and values, but whatever our situations, there is always something we can do. Everyone can make a difference.

No one can do everything.
But everyone can do something.
Over the coming weeks I’m going to be writing more about waste, particularly our love affair with plastic, as well as some how to’s and tips for being a conscious consumer. I also want to hear your ideas! Are there any topics you’d like to know more about? Any issues you struggle with? Any aspects of ethical consumerism you find confusing? Just let me know in the comments; I can’t wait to hear from you!

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  • Chris Bond

    Hi Lindsay
    We send plastic bottles and even plastic bags for recycling but I’ve often wondered where they actually go to and what is done with them – can’t help but feel some of them probably still end up in landfill…
    cheers, Chris

    • Hi Chris! Plastic recycling definitely isn’t the magic solution we’re all led to believe, that’s for sure! (Although it’s still better than landfill of course.) Which plastics are actually recycled depends on your local authority, and often only numbers 1 and 2 are recycled. Another thing to know is that plastic isn’t technically recycled, it’s downcycled, so it gets degraded, and only has a couple of “turns” until it cannot be recycled further. Plus did you know that food packaging can only be made out of virgin plastic because of contamination risks? I’ll definitely be posting more about plastic in the coming weeks, but if you’re interested in knowing a bit more you can read this post I wrote about plastic recycling: http://treadingmyownpath.com/2013/06/26/plastic-recycling-what-those-numbers-actually-mean/

      Thanks so much for your comment : )

  • Leanne J

    I didn’t know that food packaging could only be made from virgin plastic! 🙁 Another reason to buy unpackaged food where possible, and complain to supermarkets when every vegetable/fruit option is covered in plastic…

    • It makes sense if you think about it – imagine if your fresh fruit and veggies were wrapped in plastic made from old bleach bottles and empty bottles of Roundup weedkiller!

      Yes, the less packaging the better! Independent stores and farmers’ markets tend to have far less packaging than the supermarkets, so if you have access to these then they are great alternative.

      And complain away! The more voices they hear, the more likely they will be to change : )

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  • Lindsay, I have become more and more disillusioned with recycling. There are so many rules that we need to know first yet they aren’t spelled out. For instance if you toss a plastic bottle (say a soda bottle) in the recycling but it still has the cap on it will be rejected. Or while glass can be recycled infinitely, most of the glass is crushed to make roads or to cover the landfill layers. A wonderful book about waste that I highly recommend to everyone is Garbage Land, it’s a real eye opener.

    • I feel the same. You’re right, every single local authority has its own rules. Yep, if any liquid is left in a bottle it is sent to landfill as the contents *might* be hazardous and there is no way of knowing. And that’s the same with glass where I live – it’s made into road base. I don’t want to be contributing to more roads! I looked up that book in my local library but they don’t have it – I will see if I can find a friend to borrow it form. Sounds exactly like my kind of book : )

  • Everyone can do something – this is absolutely true! I am trying to give a good example to my kids. At home we don`t use plastic and recycle. With little steps we could do a big change! Best regards!

    • Thanks for your comment Alison – lovely to see your enthusiasm shining through! Lead by example. That is exactly it : )

      Lindsay x