How Our Waste Affects the Climate Emergency – and What We Can Do About It #WorldEnvironmentDay
This year’s World Environment Day is like none we’ve ever seen before. In London alone, carbon emissions have fallen by 60% since COVID-19 lockdown measures began, and as humans slow down, wildlife has been making a comeback across the globe. Dolphins have been spotted enjoying the clear canal waters of Venice, while at Knepp estate in Sussex, wild white stork chicks have hatched for what’s believed to be the first time in hundreds of years.
Stay at home measures have proven that in the face of a global emergency, society is capable of large-scale positive change. Like COVID-19, climate change too is a global emergency, and it is one that we can choose to act on. Last year, all six west London boroughs declared a climate emergency, agreeing that existing measures to combat global warming are not yet enough and that more needs to be done.
As individuals we have a significant amount of control over the amount of waste we produce and how we treat it – whether we recycle, landfill or incinerate – and this will play a huge part in the action against carbon emissions. West London Waste takes a closer look at three of the largest waste streams – food waste, plastics and textiles – and the actions we can take to reduce them.
For most of us here in the UK, popping to the shop for an avocado or bunch of bananas is second nature. Food is so easy to buy and available we often forget it’s even on the shelf. Misreading expiry dates, cooking too much or simply forgetting about items that go off are some of the main reasons that contribute to the 6.5 million tonnes of food waste produced annually in the UK – or, financially speaking, that’s an average waste of £60 per household per month.
This food waste creates methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. If every household were to reduce and/or recycle their food waste instead of throwing it away, the CO2 savings would amount to the same as removing 1 in 5 cars off UK roads.
So what exactly can be done to minimise food waste – and save you money?
- Meal planning – this is especially important now that supermarket queuing times are so long! Planning your meals for one or two weeks will help you buy what you need and use your ingredients before they go off.
- Expiry dates – most foods can be safely eaten past it’s ‘best before’ date. If your food can be frozen, freeze it before the expiry date and you can eat it whenever you like. If you’re unsure, check out this useful article:
- Use leftovers – getting creative with your leftovers has never been easier thanks to apps such as SuperCook, AllRecipes Dinner Spinner, BigOven and Cookpad. Simply enter the ingredients you already have and they will generate a new recipe!
- Smart portion sizes – it’s generally best to trust the guidelines on the packet. Measure your ingredients carefully to avoid cooking excess. Top tip: for spaghetti, use the ‘rule of thumb’ – one thumb-sized bunch of pasta = one person’s portion size.
- Smart freezing – did you know that cooked pasta, cooked rice, bread, flour, grated cheese and butter are just some of the many foods that can be frozen? Check out the full list here:
Did you know that almost all plastic is made from fossil fuels? The process of extracting and transporting those fuels – then manufacturing plastic – creates billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases every single year.
Not only is the production of plastic very carbon intensive, but more and more discarded plastics are making their way into our waterways and oceans. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean if we don’t make drastic changes today.
The good news is that changes are already underway – the UK Plastics Pact (2018) has seen major supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose pledge that by 2025 all plastic packaging can be reused, recycled or composted.
But what decisions and behaviour changes can we make as individuals in the fight against plastic waste?
- Reduce – lower the global demand for plastic by buying less of it wherever possible. Shopping at zero waste stores, buying loose fruit and veg and avoiding ready meals with excess packaging are some great ways to reduce your plastic intake.
- Reuse – reusable water bottles, coffee cups, shopping bags, period products, nappies and food containers/wraps are great planet and money-saving alternatives to disposable plastics.
- Recycle – get savvy about your recycling – if you aren’t sure whether a plastic can be recycled, check your council website. If in doubt, throw it out. Always make sure you clean your recycling before you put it out.
In west London alone, over 18,000 tonnes of textiles are thrown out each year. That’s the equivalent of 150 blue whales!
The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is the second largest consumer of water worldwide, and washing clothes releases 500,000 tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year – that’s the same as 50 billion plastic bottles.
You can help reduce the emissions from textile waste by:
- Buying quality items that last – get to know your brands and what they stand for. Some brands, like Patagonia and Nudie Jeans, offer a lifelong repair/replacement guarantee which is worth the higher initial price tag.
- Buying second hand where possible – support your local charity shops or use online platforms like Depop and eBay to pick up your favourite high street names at a fraction of the retail price.
- Recycling your clothes – even if they are full of holes, clean textiles can be repurposed as cleaning rags or stuffing for toys and furniture. If your clothes are in good condition, you can sell them online using apps like Depop, or take them to a clothing bank/charity shop.
Article Author: Meghan Mooney