Waste is confusing.
How can I reuse this? Who else could use it? Which bin do I put it in?
It’s incredibly hard trying to be a waste warrior considering all the single-use plastics, fast fashion and other disposables we encounter every day. Figuring out the most environmentally friendly way to waste gets really complicated, really quick.
That’s where a little thing called the waste hierarchy can help you out. While it’ll depend on the waste type, your location and a couple of other factors, this handy hierarchy can make your waste way better.
For consumer goods, like clothes and basically anything from Target, it’s likely you didn’t actually need it in the first place, eliminating the need to throw it away. For food waste, there’s creative and mindful cooking to make sure you’re fridge doesn’t fill up with inedibles that have to be binned. For single-use plastics, there’s a reusable version available for pretty much everything these days.
The first step in the waste hierarchy is simply putting a little more thought into our waste creation and how we can prevent it.
So you’ve got some unavoidable waste that you simply have to throw out … or do you?
Reusing waste means keeping it in its existing form but either someone else using it or using it yourself but in a new way.
For example, if your food waste is still edible, there’s almost definitely a recovery and redistribution program in your area for people who could definitely get around it. Thrift shops, upcycling, marketplaces (online and real-world) are all mechanisms to give a new life to any other waste types you might have as well.
Recycling is the transformation of waste into a new form, typically in large industrial resource recovery and recycling centres. This is when your paper, plastics, clothes, furniture and every else is sorted and shredded to try and create more value. While this is still beneficial, this process takes energy that can sometimes outweigh the benefits. Or, as we’ve written about, the recyclables may just be sent straight to landfill!
Now food waste is a special case here, as there’s a little bit of contest on the order of recycling priority. Some say it’s more efficient to process it using anaerobic digestion, some say compost (obviously us). Ultimately though, the real answer is ... it depends!
If your council offers food waste collection that heads to an anaerobic digester or you’ve got one of these super cool mini-ones, do that first. Much more likely though, you’ve probably got a backyard or neighbourhood compost operation right around the corner that’s a way better option.
Next is recovery, also known as waste-to-energy, also known as incineration. This is the reason why countries such as Sweden and Japan are always touted as waste champions, they’re literally just burning it all. The incineration process generates electricity for use, creating at least some benefit from the end product.
Now, this is better than sending waste to landfill … but not much better. Incineration is kind of like putting a bandaid on a bullet-hole and while it’s better than nothing, it’s definitely not the best we can do. It also produces a whole lot of ash and air pollutants that are super hard to dispose of.
Then, of course, is landfilling it. Do we even need to say it? They shouldn’t exist, they’re terrible for the environment, methane capture barely works and they need to go extinct as soon as possible.
So next time you're doing something with your waste, make sure it's high on the hierarchy!