Waste is a misleading word. Any items that are no longer of any use to us are classified as waste, but are they really useless? When we’ve eaten an apple the core is waste; when we’ve finished the milk, the bottle is waste; when a T-shirt has a hole it’s waste and when a phone no longer works it becomes waste. And once it’s waste it goes into the bin. But what if we called all of these thing resources instead of waste? The apple becomes a nutrient resource if we compost it, the milk bottle can become another bottle, the T-shirt may become a new dress and the materials in a phone the resources necessary to make a new phone. In this case, it becomes important which bin the waste goes into, so that the waste can become a resource.
Our consumer culture has become used to the idea that we buy stuff at one end of the chain, and waste it at the other. This is why our current system is called a linear economy. The amount of waste we are producing is growing and becoming a problem. Plastic pollution is a prime example, with plastic directly releasing chemicals into the environment and harming animals. Indirectly, there are great environmental costs associated with the emissions and pollution related involved in the production of virgin plastic. The same problem applies to clothes and electronic waste, the only difference is that we don’t see the impact.
The numbers associated with our throw-away culture are staggering. In the following I have listed some examples to illustrate the scale of the problem and the need for change.
- About 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year, with half for single use
- More than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year
- More than one million plastic bags are used every minute
- Each mile of UK beaches is littered with over 150 plastic bottles
- The value of clothes thrown away, often barely used, every year is estimated at USD 500 billion
- Half a million tonnes of microfibers are released into the oceans each year
- The average consumer bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than 2000, but kept each item for half as long
- Add to this greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and water use
- 44 million tonnes was produced in 2017 – over 6 kg for every person on the planet
- The weight of e-waste is equivalent to all commercial aircraft ever built
- 80% ends up in landfill or is informally recycled
- As much as 7% of the world’s gold may be contained in electronic waste
This is why it’s so important to move to a circular economy in which resources are reused and recycled. By buying used and recycled items and putting the resources into the right bin, we can contribute to creating such as system.