There is No “Away”

This summer I saw something on social media which really made me think. It was an image of a landfill site with the words “There is no away” across it. Such a simple statement, but one I’d never really considered before. Although we’ve been recycling things for years and more recently trying to reduce waste as much as possible, there are still some things which can’t be reused, repurposed or recycled that have to be “thrown away”.

This is the problem – there is no “away”. When we throw things “away”, they don’t just magically disappear. No, our rubbish gets taken off and chucked in a big hole called landfill where it will gradually get buried under more and more stuff, all the while breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces of micro plastic or giving off greenhouse gases as it decomposes or leeching dangerous chemicals into our soil and water. But never going away. Or maybe, it’ll get incinerated. Yes, incineration can produce energy, but it also produces carbon dioxide and releases other harmful toxins and pollutants into the air. Until now emissions from incinerators have been limited by EU standards. But the UK government has long been looking to lower the standards and from 2021 will be in a position to do so.

It seems mad that in the 21st-century our solution to our waste management is as unsophisticated as bury it or burn it. It doesn’t seem like it has evolved at all since Stone Age times. The trouble is now there are a whole lot more of us and we have way more stuff. It’s not our fault really, we’ve been conditioned for decades (if not longer) to buy, buy, buy. Adverts, businesses, politicians – they’re all telling us we need more things, new things, better things.  Some things are even designed not to last; there is a term for it – built in obsolescence. Whether it be clothes, technology, food, toys or furniture, our entire economy is built on this system.

But this constant quest for “new” (without a thought for what happens to the “old”) has led to two problems: we are rapidly using up our natural resources and we are running out of space for our rubbish. In the UK we send around 15 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year. And landfill capacity is decreasing; in 2017 it was estimated that the UK has only 6.8 years before we run out of non-hazardous landfill capacity. Because there is no “away”.

As I was writing this post, I saw the headline “Human-made objects to outweigh living things”. Scientists in Israel have calculated that by the end of 2020 the combined mass of all things made by humans (bricks, concrete, plastic and all the other stuff) is likely to outweigh all the planet’s plants, animals and people for the first time. The article also contained the shocking (but perhaps not surprising) fact that for every person in the world, more than their body weight in stuff is now being produced each week! Where’s it all going to go?

The very fact that there is no “away”, combined with dwindling natural resources and the carbon emissions created by the production of all this “stuff”, is a pretty depressing thought. But here at EcoBabble we don’t want to depress you or worry you more than you already are. We want to inspire and empower you to take positive eco-action.

So what can we as individuals do? In simple terms, two things: Think Before You Throw and Think Before You Buy

1. Before you throw, ask yourself:

Can it be recycled?

If it can’t be recycled in your kerbside collection or at a household recycling centre, is there another way to recycle it? Our post I Didn’t Know You Could Recycle That provides more info on recycling and the Terracycle website is a great resource.

Can it be repaired?

Clothes, shoes, electrical appliances – very often these things can be repaired. Depending on what it is, seek out an expert or have a go yourself – there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to help! There are even Repair Cafes around the country where volunteers will repair things for you for little or no charge, just to save things from landfill.

Can it be sold?

There are plenty of online platforms for selling second hand (eBay, Gumtree, Preloved, to name a few). Or you could go old school and put a notice up in a window or on a notice board.

Can it be given away?

Charity shops are the obvious destination for many things (clothes, shoes, books, bric-a-brac) we no longer want, although only 30% of donations are actually sold. For larger or more obscure items, try websites like Freegle or Freecycle. You’d be surprised what people will take, we have successfully gifted things like padded envelopes and bubble wrap, a broken petrol lawnmower, building rubble, old windows, and broken bikes.

Can it be repurposed or up-cycled?

Caroline has repurposed old frying pans as bird baths in her garden. Her wildlife pond is made from an old bath. If you’re feeling crafty, get on Pinterest and look for ideas for up-cycling furniture, clothes or other objects. If you lack time or inclination, why not offer the item to others for free?

2. Before you buy, ask yourself:

Do you really need it?

Maybe you already own something you could use instead. If it’s a “want” purchase, rather than essential, don’t buy it immediately. Think about it for a week, you might talk yourself out of it!

Can you borrow or rent it?

Look into dress agencies or suit hire for special occasions. Use your library. Borrow tools and equipment that you don’t need very often from friends, family or neighbours. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a Library of Things near you.

Can you buy it second hand?

Charity shops, eBay, second hand shops – there are plenty of ways to track down second hand goods and you could save money in the process.

If it’s a product in non-recyclable packaging, is there an alternative?

Choose loose fruit and veg in the supermarket. Go for recyclable paper, cardboard or glass packaging over single use plastic film. If you have a local refill store, pay them a visit with your own reusable containers.

There is no away – it’s a stark truth. But there are also things we can do to minimise our impact and save things from landfill. Be a conscious consumer and think before buying. Be a committed recycler (or should that be recyclist?) and try to save things from landfill. You don’t need to go full on “zero waste”, which personally I think is unrealistic and unachievable. Just make mindful choices and remember that there is no “away”.

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