Growing up in Melbourne, Australia in the 1960s, families took part in the weekly ritual of placing their rubbish bin on the grassed nature strip, at the edge of the road. Late in the afternoon or early evening, suburban Dads* lugged small-to-medium metal containers - complete with matching metal lid - to the edge of the kerb, ready for morning collection by the garbo^.
Some families had chickens to feed vegetable scraps to. Some ‘progressive’ families had a compost bin. Glass bottles were returned to local recycling depots. Aluminum drink cans were collected by kids and sold to scrap metal dealers for a few dollars. Grandmothers were often on the hunt for glass jars to reuse for their homemade jams. If a household appliance stopped working (and this was usually after decades), a repair man was found.
So each week, our waste fitted into one of those 55-75 litre bins.
Fast forward to the late 1980s. A shift from all waste thrown into the household rubbish bin, to local councils (Sydney being the first city) who embraced kerbside recycling. Now, households had 2 bins. One bin was for general rubbish, and the other for glass, some plastics, tin, paper and cardboard. A 240 litre green bin for recycling AND a 240 litre bin for rubbish – both with wheels – revolutionary! About a year on, the 240 litre rubbish bin was replaced by one half the size. ‘Wheelie bins’… to make lugging all that excess to the kerb so much easier. Good news, we said. Or was it? We recycled, yet did we now consume more?
2017. Are we better recyclers? Do we waste more? Do we consume less? Do we throw away or find new uses for items we no longer want? Over a decade Australians nearly doubled our waste. During 1996-97, we generated 22.7 million tonnes of waste. In 2006-7, we produced 43.8 million. The Australia Bureau of Statistics told us we went from 1,200 kilograms of waste generated, to 2,100kg churned out per person! The amount of stuff we threw into landfill also increased in the early 2000s. From 19 million tonnes in 2001 to 21.3 million in 2007¹.
Between 1996 and 2016, Australia’s population increased by about one-third, yet our waste generation rose by 170%! MRA, an Australian environmental consultancy company, tell us there is some good news, despite their scary statistic about increased waste. Since 2005 there has been a DECREASE of waste to landfill in some Australian states due to recycling behaviour. Yes, the ‘good’ news is that we now recycle almost 60% of waste… with the rest heading to landfill².
So how else can we improve?
3 Rs + AVOIDOver the years, many of us have read and heard about the 3 Rs.
Reduce…. Reuse… Recycle, with recycle being the last option before heading to landfill. The newish kid getting attention is Avoid. We will hear more about Avoid in another post. Today’s post features Reuse.
This is where an #EtikoGoodStory makes an appearance.
Earlier this year, a major sportswear and school uniform manufacturer was closing its operations in Australia. Thousands of metres of fabric were going to be dumped to landfill. 53,000 metres (58,000 yards) to be precise! That’s 6 times the height of Mount Everest, 150 times taller than the Eiffel Tower, and 400 Great Pyramids of Giza stacked up.
A friend who had a connection to this manufacturer suggested the company donate it. Since the fabric was not Fairtrade or organic we could not use it. However we didn’t want to see it going to landfill. What to do? In the meantime, while finding a solution, we stored about 1,000 bolts of fabric at our warehouse.
Interestingly the day we received the fabric was the same day that the ABC's War On Waste program focused on fashion waste.
Negotiations over a few days eventually saw the bulk of the fabric donated to World Vision Australia. More than 45,000 metres (49,000 yards) have headed to Zambia and Somalia, where they will be used in livelihood projects training women in new skills such as sewing and marketing of their handmade products. Projects also generally do good for the wider community, for example, making hospital sheets for local clinics.
We donated some fabric to Boomerang Bags – a community-driven movement tackling plastic pollution. Volunteers across more than 450 groups make reusable bags from donated fabric. Fabulous hey? Find (or start!) a group in your local area.
We also donated fabric to projects training refugees in Australia, and some local animal shelters, including Wild Paws Wildlife Shelter.
Taking on the fabric was a mammoth task, which few if any small fashion brands could have managed. However, a few phone calls, emails, meetings and collaboration with organisations such as Boomerang Bags and World Vision Australia, meant we stopped this massive amount of fabric making its way to landfill.
If Etiko, as a small company can do this, imagine what larger/well-resourced companies could do? Ideally, we want to be avoiding mass consumption, reducing our buying to what we really ‘need’, reusing in our daily lives. Last resort we should be recycling our items so they can at least be transformed into something else.
Let us know about your unusual, inspirational or just plain easy ideas to reuse!
* Yes, remember it was the 1970s…and was one of the few household jobs - along with mowing the lawn and supervising the BBQ – generally allocated to fathers. ^’Garbo’ (for our readers outside of Australia) is the colloquialism for the person paid to collect the household rubbish/trash from outside of each home. ‘Garbologist’ being the full term, however in true Aussie style, a tendency to shorten language. ¹http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1370.0~2010~Chapter~Waste%20(6.6) ²https://blog.mraconsulting.com.au/2016/04/20/state-of-waste-2016-current-and-future-australian-trends/#_ednref2