Imagine living in a world where everything we make and buy is able to be reused, made into something else or composted. Landfills would be a thing of the past! Sadly, right now we are buying more products and we are producing more rubbish than ever before.
To ensure a sustainable future for our children we need to reverse this trend by reducing the amount of resources we throw away. We can do this by keeping products and their components in use as long as possible and recycling where we can. We also need to build on this and move to a completely circular use of resources. Nature does not make waste, and we do not need to either with good design.
Below are some practical actions we can all take right now – at home, work, school and out and about.
A great way to reduce waste is to think about the environment when you shop
- Avoid unnecessary plastic and packaging
- Take reusable bags with you – keep them in handy places such as under your keys, in your car or at work so you don’t forget them. If you forget buy another if you can. Did you know that you can also buy light-weight reusable nylon bags which fold into tiny parcels that fit in purses or packs? You can use these for fruit and vegetables. They are available online and from many supermarkets.
- Buy products that come in recycled and recyclable packaging, such as glass, aluminium cans and plastics with 1 or 2 recycling codes.
- Buy products that are made from or packaging in materials that can be composted at home. For instance choose bars of soap packaged in compostable cardboard over liquid soap in soap dispensers.
- Avoid packaging altogether. Some shops will refill containers for you (eg, certain brands of dishwashing detergent). Try also taking your own containers and cutlery when buying lunch. Even better prepare your lunch at home and put it in a reusable container.
- Buy products that can be repaired or recycled
A lot of products these days are not made to last or be repaired or recycled. This means many items end up in landfill when one part breaks down – even if the other components are perfectly useable.
- Check if the item can be repaired before throwing it away. Keep the warranties, as the manufacturer may repair the item if it breaks within the warranty period.
- If the item can’t be repaired, can it be recycled? Many councils have recycling centres including e-waste bins. Check your council’s website before putting things in your kerbside bin. See Council maps and websites [LGNZ]
Keep the resources that went into making products out of the landfill longer
- Buy recycled or second-hand goods or borrow them
The best option is to reuse, repurpose or buy pre-loved instead of buying new – online trading platforms like Trade Me and op-shops are some of our greatest recycling centres. You can also save on expensive items such as furniture or a car by buying second-hand.
- Look out for opportunities to buy goods made with recycled instead of virgin materials – there is a wide range of items made out of recycled material from paper and glass to furniture.
- Some manufacturers are also using packaging made out of recycled materials. By choosing these goods you’re reducing the impacts of your consumption and sending a message to brands to keep it up and do even more.
- If you only need an item for a short time; ask a friend, family member or neighbour if you can borrow theirs.
- Be creative and find new uses for items you no longer need (eg, cut up old linen and towels and use as rags for cleaning instead of using paper towels).
- Donate or sell what you don’t need
- Drop off good-quality goods at shops run by organisations such as The Salvation Army, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Hospice New Zealand and New Zealand Red Cross. Or list your item on a website like Trade Me – you never know who else might want it.
- Many landfills operate a second-hand shop where you can take goods that can be reused.
- Unwanted paint can be donated to community groups, marae or schools. You can also take it to a local Resene store: all Resene paints will be recycled free, and other brands will attract only a small recycling fee.
- The H&M clothing retailer has in-store drop-off boxes for clothes and textiles in any condition. The items are passed onto a business partner to process for re-wear, reuse or recycling. Other retailers may also, so ask or check their websites.
- Buy products that are designed for reuse or made to ‘last the distance’
- Consider buying a reusable water bottle for when you are out and about, or take your own reusable cup when buying your next cup of tea or coffee.
- If you can afford to, buy good quality electronics such as printers and white ware so you don’t need to replace these items as often.
- If you have a baby or toddler, use cloth nappies rather than disposables.
- Join Conscious Consumers to influence the stores you buy from to make positive changes and be rewarded for good spending. See the Conscious consumers website.
If it can’t be reused, recycle or compost it - make landfill the last option
- Make use of kerbside collection services
Recycling in New Zealand is generally collected from the kerbside, given a very quick sort at a depot – into glass, plastic, paper and metals – then bundled and sent overseas.
Recycling correctly is critical.
- Only put glass, paper, cardboard, plastic and tins into recycling bins. All items must be CLEAN - free of food waste, leftover detergent, dirt etc.
- Check your local council’s website for information on what you can put out for recycling.
- On plastics look for a number. If there is no number or not one taken by your local recycling system, place it in the rubbish bin.
The plastic resin code number on plastics can be a source of confusion. There has to be a recycling market for the plastic for it to be collected. In most areas of New Zealand only code 1 and 2 plastics are currently collected. In a few areas others are accepted such as 4 and 5. Your council’s website should have information on this. See the list of plastic ID codes on the Plastics NZ website.
Part of the reason why there are poor markets for recyclables is that most people, companies and agencies do not demand or buy recycled content. Some argue that if you are not buying recycled, then you are not truly recycling.
- Try to recycle more than just those products taken at the kerbside
- If an item isn’t accepted in your area’s kerbside recycling, it may be accepted by a local resource recovery centre or business scheme. See our webpage on the work of some of these schemes.
- You can drop off soft plastic such as bread bags, chip packets and bubble wrap for recycling, by the Soft Plastics Recycling Project, at for instance Countdown, New World, PAK'nSAVE, and The Warehouse stores.
- Take metals to a scrap dealer – they will take ferrous metals (steel, iron) and often pay for non-ferrous metals such as aluminium, copper, brass and lead.
- Compost biodegradable materials
- Composting at home is a good option for compostable materials such as food scraps and moderate amounts of paper (paper towels cardboard). Compost is a great food for gardens and will help your vegetables thrive. There are many guides online for setting up and maintaining a healthy compost bin.
- If you don’t have a garden, a neighbour or nearby community garden might need more compost. You could ask around on Facebook or Neighbourly, or put up a notice on a community noticeboard.
Check your local council’s website for information on what you can put out for recycling. Many councils also have guidelines for composting.