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Why We Should Be Moving Towards A Zero Waste Economy

plastic waste Source: Pixabay Look around your local area and you’ll soon find examples of discarded waste packaging: plastic bags in the branches of trees, plastic shards in the river or on the beach, food wrappers and plastic bottles in the street, and many more besides. Look too at old photos and you’ll notice it wasn’t always like this. And perhaps if we all think more carefully about the problem of waste, maybe it doesn’t have to be like this. To take one simple waste recycling idea: What about the old poker chips you want to get rid of? Rather than throw them away, use them as decoration for a casino party, or even make brooches from them. You might even think about avoiding real poker chips in future and try an online video poker game instead.

Food packaging and waste

If you’re perhaps thinking this is nothing much to worry about, here are some statistics you might want to skim through:
  • There are one million plastic bottles sold every minute (20,000 bought every second!).
  • A years’ plastic waste would circle the earth four times.
  • By 2050, a total of 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will have gone to landfill.
  • Plastic items already outnumber sea life by six to one.
  • Every year, we put 10 million tonnes of plastic into the ocean.
  • All sea turtles have plastic present in their bodies.
  • In Canada, 3 billion plastic bags are used in a single year.
  • 50% of all plastic is only used once.
  • Canadians throw away 57 million plastic straws every day.
  • One million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled.
  • Every year, plastic kills one million seabirds.

Recycling and biodegradable packaging

Plastic waste Source: Pixabay Naturally, recycling our waste and changing to biodegradable packaging are two sensible strategies we can use to at least significantly reduce our reliance upon throw-away packaging products. Recent statistics suggest that the top three countries with the best recycling rates are Germany (56.1%), followed by Austria (53.8%) and South Korea (53.7%). Interestingly, the performance of countries such as Canada (10%) and the USA (9%) is very poor in comparison. It’s reported that some 90% of Canadian plastics are either incinerated or finish up in destinations such as landfill sites (and even lakes, parks and oceans). And though Canada has been a proud champion of the Global Oceans Plastics Charter, the nation still lacks any coherent strategy to rival the measures Europe already has in place. Elsewhere, Thai company BPE (Biodegradable Packaging for Environment Public Co. Ltd.) have shown the potential for biodegradable and compostable tableware. Their products are made from sugar-cane pulp and their factory energy is supplied by steam and LPG. And, of course, all their production waste is recycled. BPE produces a natural product which is called Bagasse. This is biodegradable within 45 days in a landfill, or in nature. All Bagasse products are suitable for freezing, as well as for use in ovens and microwaves. Bagasse is also UV pasteurized and food-safe.

But what if we used no packaging at all?

Zero Waste Source: Forge Recycling Canada already has many viable examples of zero waste initiatives. This type of store/supermarket sells mainly wholefood products which shoppers load into their own containers. The consumer then weighs and labels the products before taking them to the checkout. This approach works well with a large number of products and also fits in with the idea of cheaper food and more-sustainable concepts such as buying food in bulk. Undoubtedly, this approach requires some effort and ingenuity on the part of shoppers and requires the business owners to be flexible too. Nevertheless, the ongoing benefits are clear to see and obviously extend far beyond food prices and a healthy diet. In fact it is the feel-good factor which is ultimately most likely to help this concept to spread more widely.

The challenges facing a zero waste shop

Every retailer has business problems to overcome, but for the zero-waste shop owner these are quite specific. For instance, every product has to be sourced from a local supplier, and that supplier has to be persuaded to likewise adopt zero-waste working practices. But is that a bad thing? And should we remember too that reducing food miles is also an eco-friendly idea? Hygienic standards must of course be maintained. But in a post-EU era where the UK gets to make its own law, is this not a great chance to separate what is necessary to stay safe from what is just bureaucratic or profit-driven? Yes, it will initially be a chore to get every consumer to remember to bring their containers. But the obvious benefits means there is a great incentive for everyone to get this right asap. It is not the same as being asked to observe an ‘official’ diktat with no obvious purpose.

Local heroes

Though there are numerous organic/health-food stores and enterprises which share the zero-waste philosophy, here are three of Canada’s growing number of dedicated zero-waste stores: 1) Unboxed Market, 1263 Dundas St W, Toronto, Canada. 2) Vrac & Bocaux, 6698 Ave Christophe-Colomb, Montreal, Canada. 3) Nada, 675 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
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