Waste is not a sexy subject, but nevertheless a very important one. Most people will be familiar with the message of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Despite this awareness, as a society, we still produce enormous amounts of waste. It is a real challenge.
Recycle and Recovery
Recycling has become part of our daily lives in the last decade or so. The yellow recycling bins are a familiar sight and kids are being taught about recycling at school. Bins to recycle batteries can be found in most shopping centres, there are drop of points to recycle mobile phones and printer ink cartridges.
There is a lot more we could do though. To increase the amount of recycling and recovery, it is important to create strong and reliable markets for recycled products; it is key to completing the recycling process and closing the loop. We have found ways to produce electricity or utility from waste materials. Also, recycled materials are being used in producing new ones. One example is Mobile Muster, the official recycling body for the Australian Mobile phone industry, which claims that over 90% of the materials in mobile phones can be recovered and used as raw materials for new products.
Reduce and Reuse
Reduce and Reuse however offer the greatest opportunities for eliminating pollution and depletion of natural resources. Yet, we seem to have focused most of our eforts at recycling and recovery. A lot less has been done to promote resource reduction or material re-use. Why is that? Maybe it is because reduction and re-use are often perceived to be at odds with economic development. As consumers we are encouraged to buy more, not less. For this to change, a paradigm shift may be required in perceptions of wealth, economic development and quality of life, or, at the very least, a more comprehensive means of measuring costs and benefits. What difference would it make if producers were responsible for the burden of disposal and diversion? Faced with reclamation they would be encouraged to and have a stake in finding alternatives. They would re-think how stuff was made if they were made responsible for their products during its full life-cycle.
Cradle-to-Cradle and Life Cycle Assessment
Cradle-to-Cradle and product life cycle assessment are two systemetic approaches to encourage source reduction. Compare this to conventional waste management which is designed as if waste emerged out of nowhere, wich no connection to previous actions and decisions, except those of the final consumer. Of course, as consumers we can try to educate ourselves and try to do the right thing. Reality is though that most of a product's life history remains largely unknown to us and unaccounted for by our economy.
Food waste is often seen as a seperate component of waste management, however the same principles apply. Most important is to ensure you only buy what you need so that you reduce the amount of food that gets thrown out. Data collated by environmental lobby group Do Something! shows that across Australia, about 4.45 million tonnes of food, worth $7.8 billion, is discarded per annum. This is an average of between $500 and $1,000 per household per year and definetely an easy way to save money!
Composting or worm farms are an easy way to recycle your own food waste. If you live in a small appartment, the bokashi bin may be an option for you. And if you are lucky enough to have a big back yard, the chooks will love it :-) There is a lot of information availabe on how to start a compost bin or worm farm. Don't let the sometimes technical information put you off. There are a lot of people that can give you hints and tips or your local community garden may run a workshop. Just get started and enjoy the learning process.
The Green Swing & Waste
Our first biggest challenge is waste during the construction phase of the project. We've all seen building sites with rubbish everywhere. It is real eyesore. Is it possible to avoid this? Well, we're going to try. This is what we aim to do:
- Discuss waste with your builder. We are working closely together with our builder Right Homes. We have discussed the issue of waste. This has created awareness and an opportunity to find solutions together. Gary Wright has been extremely helpful in providing information on what items can be recycled.
- Visit a land fill facility. The Green Swing and Right Homes together visited Perth's Red Hill waste facility. It was impressive for all the wrong reasons :-( Tours are free; we highly recommend it.
- Ordering. The biggest challenge is not to produce waste in the first place. Ensuring the right products and quantities are being ordered is very important. We do our best. What is left over we will try to pass on to others to re-use or recycle. For instance some treated pine posts were left on site after the concrete was pored. We will re-use these for our wood framed structures.
- Separate the rubbish. The builder will place a couple of cages on site to help us separate the waste. We will be on-site regularly to clean up the site and take the rubbish to different recycling centres. Cardboard and bottles fill up on our yellow wheelie bins, wood will be re-used or taken to a special recycling centre and we have been told that soon WA will start to recycle bricks into road material. If you know of other options, please let us know.
- Waste bins. Rubbish that we cannot recycle ourselves will be placed in a waste bin. We have been recommended to use Instant Waste Management. This company is expecting to open a new processing facility in 2012 which should enable them to recycle between 80-90% of waste received (currently 70%).
- Waste Management Plan. You can document in a written plan how you are going to manage your waste. There are examples available on the internet. These plans identify your waste items and you write down how you are going to reuse or dispose of them. We admit that we have not formalised our waste management plan in writing, instead opting for a more practical approach, believing that while planning is important, it is even more important to take action!
Once we move in to our new dwellings we will be conscious of the waste we produce. It is the usual list which includes buying fresh produce and reducing packaging. One of the dwellings has been allowed to recycle its grey water. There will also be a community worm farm and/or compost bin. The bokashi bin which we purchased while renting will also come with us to our new home. If you are interested in finding out more about how to reduce your waste, we have included some interesting weblinks on this page to start your research. Enjoy!