Living for a sustainable future
Starting a “zero-waste” lifestyle requires serious thought and determination in the first place. We need to be clear about why we want to reduce the amount of waste we produce. The answer is simple: if we love the planet we live on, the beautiful landscapes provided by nature, the amazing flora and fauna, then it is up to each of us to protect them from destruction and save them for ourselves, our families and all of humanity. Once we have the reason, we just have to start implementing the changes step by step, until it becomes part of our daily routine and thus seamlessly integrates into our daily lives. In itself, each positive change is a small drop in the sea, but when many-many drops gather, it is no longer so impossible to make the planet we live on clean and healthy again.
It is all of us to blame for the amount of rubbish that is generated in our environment day by day. Of course, it is largely influenced by our shopping habits, i.e., which companies and contractors we prefer during our purchases. In most cases, it is up to us whether an item becomes rubbish or waste, however, the proper management of the waste we generate has a great importance on protecting our environment. If we take a trip back in time and start studying the history of waste generation in more depth, we realise that in fact waste generation dates back almost as far as mankind itself. Although, as long as man lived in harmony with nature, most of the waste generated got recycled. However, as development began, cities emerged, with the discovery and use of new materials, and their consequences led to the problem of waste management over time.
In the Middle Ages, people used to throw the waste they generated into the streets creating stinking rubbish dumps in their surroundings. By the 19th century, however, rubbish was collected in an organised way and disposed of outside the cities without sorting. This was the so-called first- generation of waste management, where everything went into the rubbish without sorting.
Selective waste collection, that is the selective collection of certain wastes and their reuse as raw materials, began in London in the early 1800s. Nowadays, a selective waste collection system has been set up in many countries; collection islands have been established and selective garbage bins have been placed at homes, where plastic, paper, metal and glass waste can be collected selectively. Selective waste collection and recycling are considered to be the second-generation waste management method.
Individual responsibility also plays an important role here, that is, whether the objects that have become unnecessary items are actually put in the recycling bin or the communal trash. By processing selective waste, we can reduce the extraction and processing of new raw materials, thus ensuring that they are available for future generations, and reducing emissions of many pollutants at the same time. Selective waste collection and recycling are very important, but we need to be aware that not all materials can be 100% recycled and reused over and over again. Besides that, we also need to know that all of these have very high energy consumption and are rather cost intensive. For example, if we buy our pastries or bread in paper bags every day, which we then selectively collect, the bags are recycled, and new paper products are made from it. However, we must bear it in mind, that the collection, processing, remanufacturing and shipping of all this takes a lot of energy. Nevertheless, if a washable bag is produced from a used material, a T-shirt, etc. and later is used to store bakery products upon purchase, then there will be no longer need for a paper bags, and thus selective waste collection and processing will also be reduced, and overall, less energy will be needed. If we follow this way of thinking, we can get to the “zero-waste” model and to the third-generation waste management method. The goal of “zero-waste” is to make our lifestyles waste-free. It is about designing and choosing our devices in such a way that they can be used for a very long time, even for a lifetime, can be suitable for future generations and, at the end of their life, they can be reused and recycled. The main objective of a “zero-waste” lifestyle is not to collect waste selectively, but to prevent, eliminate and minimise the generation waste itself. And if it is generated, it should be reused wherever possible and, ultimately, collected selectively.
In today’s world, achieving a completely “zero-waste”, “zero-litter” life is very difficult, and for many people, completely unachievable.
What everyone needs to be aware of is that living a “zero-waste” lifestyle does not equal having zero waste production. It is much more about minimizing our waste production with mindfulness and planning. Many people think that “zero-waste” lifestyle is a sacrifice and costs a lot. There are certain things of course that we really need to give up and we need to change our lifestyles and attitudes. But in many cases, it only means abandoning extra conveniences, such as using washable wipes instead of disposable paper towels. However, these waste-reducing new things, taken in small steps will soon become imperceptible elements of our lives and habits. In terms of cost, some products, such as cleaning products, are much cheaper, while others can actually be more expensive than their counterparts made from lower quality materials or plastics, due to their composition and manufacture. But they are of good quality and can be used for a long time, thus contributing to our efforts to reduce waste. It is also important to emphasize that a “zero-waste” lifestyle places great emphasis on using existing products that are already in use looking for new uses for them as long as possible. This will save us from unnecessary expenses, making potentially more expensive items more affordable to buy. A lot of people wonder how to start a waste-reducing lifestyle.
The following ideas
are worth thinking about for everyone,
as a compass to a more liveable future.
Let’s learn to say no to others and ourselves when it comes to products we don’t really need. Before we buy something, let’s think about whether we really need it, how long will we be able to use it and what will happen to it at the end of its life. If we don’t really need that product, it was only the advertisement which had a good slogan or can be replaced by something else that we already have at home, let’s not buy it. Flyers handed out in the streets, which many people throw in the first bin, or advertising papers crammed into the mailbox and we can also view online, all cost raw materials and energy, yet very quickly becoming waste. But the situation is similar with disposable packaging materials for vegetables, fruits and pastries, with the sachet or bag used to pack a box of painkillers in the pharmacy, as that little box can also fit in the handbag.
And what’s important here is that there should be no reason that the bag will be good for collecting trash in the kitchen garbage. If we embark on the path of waste reduction, the amount of rubbish generated will be reduced and the need to line the bin will be unjustified. In refusal, we can even think of gifts we receive alongside some purchases that we wouldn’t buy, and we don’t really know what to use them for. By purchasing and accepting each of these products, we send a message to the stores, and ultimately to the manufacturers, that these products are needed, and they should continue to produce them.
When shopping, we should always consciously plan in advance what we really need. When choosing products, we should focus on the durable, compostable or selectively collectable ones, even though the consumer society is trying to convince us that we badly need every single product, and if we do not get them, we will be at a disadvantage. As a result of advertising and social influences, many people are easily seduced into buying new things. This attitude leads to massive consumption and waste; replacing immaculate clothes, furniture and electronic devices just because they aren’t the latest fashion which changes every few years anyway.
But it’s not just everyday objects that we need to think about here. Food waste is a serious problem, often the result of reckless purchases and excessive consumption. But we can also take examples of cosmetics, when there are several opened bottles of shower gel, shampoo and hair conditioner on the shelf which eventually expire and end up in the bin. We can also find a separate cleaning agent for each room and each surface, although using 3-4 raw materials (vinegar, citric acid, baking soda, washing soda) can easily keep our home clean. To reduce consumption, first we should use what we already have at home and we should give away things we don’t need to someone who could really take good use of them.
By using our own shopping bags, grocery bags, fruit bags and pastry bags, we save the Earth from a lot of disposable packaging. more and more shops and restaurants use compostable disposable versions for food storage (already required by law in many countries), but the best waste is the one that is not generated in the first place. It is important not to throw everything away. Whether it’s furniture, clothes or household items, if something is no longer needed but is still in good, usable condition, we should try to sell it or donate it to charities or schools. Reusing prevents new resources from being used and old resources from going to waste and rubbish in long-term.
Creativity, that is finding new functions for existing things is very important
If something can no longer be used in its original function, we should not throw it away, but try to find new functions for with a little adaptation. For example, if we don’t want to use a jar for preserving, we can use it for storing food, small items, or take it shopping instead of buying new bottles. If we have a torn piece of clothing with certain parts intact, it can be used for making kitchen towels, face wipes, or dusters. It is important to be creative and recognize the myriad of new possibilities, and internet can be a great help in showing what others have used the same material for, extending the life of the products.
Composting is a way to decompose pure plant and animal products and use them as nutrients for plants and soil-dwelling organisms, eliminating organic waste. According to some estimates, 1/3 to 1/4 of municipal waste is compostable waste. However, if they end up in an incinerator or landfill, they become unusable, which can be considered a huge wastage.
Keeping the above in mind, we should try to pre-select waste materials in advance so that they can be collected selectively, thus reducing the extraction of new raw materials. While the main goal of a zero-free lifestyle is to prevent the generation of waste, the next important element is to ensure that the waste generated is sorted and thus recycled.
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