Guest post from Tom Szaky in promotion of Waste Reduction Week citing Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada as an organization “rethinking plastic” and inspiring behavioral change year-round.
Go Circular this Waste Reduction Week, and Beyond
Canada’s Waste Reduction Week is October 15-21
Waste is a human invention and does not exist in nature. Prior to WWII, consumable products were delivered in reusable containers, goods were purchased in small markets or produced locally, and durable materials allowed for repair and reuse. Nothing went to waste. But with the rise of cheaply mass-produced plastics, increased levels of consumerism, and planned obsolescence in many products, our modern culture now creates waste on an unsustainable scale.
We make and buy 70 times more stuff than we did in the 1950s, 99 percent of which becomes waste within the first 12 months of purchase. Many products and packaging are designed for single-use, and most of the resulting waste isn’t accepted by public recycling systems and ends up as garbage. This is the ‘business as usual’ for both producers and consumers today
Formed in 2001, Canada’s Waste Reduction Week (this year falling on October 15-21) is a national environmental campaign designed to promote awareness of sustainable and responsible consumption, encourage environmentally-responsible decisions from consumers, and promote actions to divert waste from disposal in order to conserve natural resources.
Building on the engagement of last year’s programing, this year’s initiative will, for the second time, include daily themes relating to different areas of waste reduction. Here are some things to think about this week:
Monday: Circular Economy
All week, monuments across Canada, including the CN Tower, Calgary Tower and Niagara Falls, will light up blue and green to celebrate Waste Reduction Week and raise awareness around the circular economy. But what is the circular economy, and what does it have to do with reducing waste? Educating yourself this week will be the first and most important step in our work towards a waste-free future.
Most products today are thrown away after they’re used; it’s a very linear system. This one-way model of producing and purchasing sends valuable resources to the trash. In a circular economy, that line is bent into a circle that keeps resources in use and cycling through the system for as long as possible. The goal of the circular economy is to make those circles as tight as possible by reducing the energy and resources needed to get our products from useless to useful again.
Rapidly changing fashion trends and a culture of overconsumption encourages buyers to wear and discard perfectly usable clothing with little consideration for where it will end up or how long it will stay there. While certain naturally-sourced materials such as wool or cotton are technically biodegradable (though without the perfect conditions, organic material will mummify in a landfill), synthetic materials like rayon or polyester are just as slow to degrade as any other plastic item—and much harder to recycle.
Luckily, there is a simple solution: instead of throwing away old clothes and buying replacements, swap them. Visitors to the Tuesday Night Clothing Swap in Vancouver, BC that Tuesday, October 16 will be able to do just that between 6:30-8:30 p.m. All used clothing in good condition can be exchanged for “new,” used clothing from others. You can carry this sensibility year-round by raiding the closets of friends and family, and looking for clothing and accessories second-hand.
Wednesday: Celebrating Champions and Innovators
It was announced last year that my company, TerraCycle, the world’s #1 shampoo brand Head & Shoulders, and SUEZ were the recipients of a UN Momentum for Change award. The three companies worked together to put out the world’s first fully recyclable shampoo bottle made with plastic collected from beaches, rivers and other waterways. Since then, more brands in the Procter & Gamble portfolio of products have launched recyclable packages integrating our beach plastic.
Thanks to the support of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of NGOs that collected the plastic waste, these are several steps in the direction of more innovation for circular economy solutions. This week, keep your ear to the ground for up-and-coming brands dedicated to sourcing sustainably and designing end-of-life solutions for their products – ditto for large corporations working to make emerging technologies and infrastructure changes available across industries.
Plastics aren’t inherently bad. The versatile, inexpensive, lightweight material keeps food and beverage fresh for longer, delivers lifesaving drugs, and more. The problem is that because the recycling system is inefficient, most plastic waste, goes into landfill or incineration, or worse, is littered. This waste often ends up in the environment and forms microplastics—tiny, often microscopic particles that form when plastics break down into small pieces.
Besides harming animals and their habitats, waste ends up in our bodies through the food we eat and the water we drink. You can take action by reducing your plastic consumption by saying ‘no’ to single-use plastics (such as straws, to-go cups, plastic bags and cutlery) and opting for reusable options, recycling the difficult to recycle through TerraCycle, and engaging with organizations like Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada to “rethink plastic” and inspire behavioral change year-round.
Friday: Food Waste
In Canada, $31 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composters each year. Not only does food waste make no sense in a world of people in need (850,000 Canadians use food banks every month), organic matter, leftovers, “ugly” produce and overstocked foods do not readily degrade unless composted properly, and will mummify in a landfill.
Putting forth the resources necessary to reduce food waste and redirect surplus food to people who would benefit from it is essential to ensuring sustainable development overseas and here at home. Waste Reduction Week Canada calls upon consumers to take the pledge and commit to making choices that will keep food from becoming waste. You can take the pledge as an individual, school, business/organization, household, or community.
Saturday: Swap, Share, Repair
Reduce waste by not creating it in the first place. Swapping, sharing, or refurbishing extends product / material lifecycles and diverts them away from disposal and towards something useful. Learn more about sustainable consumption, the sharing economy, and extending the life of materials through reuse, and take advantage of some of the workshops and fairs occurring that weekend.
Volunteer repair experts will be available to help make all possible repairs free of charge at the Swap, Share, Repair Event held in Saskatoon, as will tools and materials for those feeling handy. The Fix-It-Fair in Halifax will feature DIY workshops to help even the most un-handy person feel like they can tackle simple home repairs. Celebrate the ingenuity, innovation and creativity of businesses are committed to a local circular economy and a culture of self-sufficiency.
WRW closes out the week with a focus on e-waste (any discarded electronic items, such as old laptops, cell phones, desktop accessories), one of the most easily understood examples of planned obsolescence. Electronic technologies upgrade every few months, their accessories and operating systems designed to be incompatible so that the purchase of a new suite becomes essential. Plus, these items, enabled by plastics, are prone to break or malfunction.
But everything is technically recyclable. The University of Alberta hosts the Electronics Round-Up and calls upon the community to bring obsolete and unused personal computers or electronic equipment for reuse or recycling. Computers that can be refurbished will be donated to the registered not for profit association Computers for Schools for reuse. Not in the area? TerraCycle’s E-Waste Recycling Program let’s you recycle anywhere in country and earn points for charity.