Do we need to value our waste?

If someone buys a new item of clothing, wears that item of clothing just once – for an Instagram post – and then throws that item of clothing in the bin, we call them an ‘Influencer’.

Rampant mindless and unconscious consumerism is becoming a massive issue and astronomical expense for Councils and Governments in wealthy nations around the world.

In Australia, as an example, 25% of all food is thrown in the bin, we buy a new phone every 25 months, the majority of fashion purchases are only worn 7 times and 6000kg of clothing and textiles are sent to landfill every 10 minutes. 30% of Australians admit to discarding more than 10 items of clothes in the last 12 months and the same number admit to having thrown out clothes that have been worn only once.

Waste and recycling were high on our radars in August 2019 when recycling group SKM collapsed and an estimated 60,000 tonnes of recyclable waste was abandoned in rented Melbourne warehouses. Many called it an ‘environmental disaster’.

Most of us know we should buy less, consume less and waste less.

Many people want or aspire to live more of a plastic-free, waste-free and packaging –free life.

The problem is we don’t.

As one Council Officer said “Waste is seen as Councils’ problem. We only actually ask people to put their bin out on the footpath”. And therein lays the problem.

In the BBC TV series ‘Blood, Sweat And T-Shirts’ – which took a group of high street fashion victims to live the life of poverty stricken Indian factory workers – one female teenage participate said “If you’ve not seen it, experienced it or been affected by it, it’s almost like it’s not real”. She’s absolutely right.

We don’t see the bin men because we’re at work. We don’t see what goes into the bin truck. We don’t know how much ‘stuff’ goes to landfill. Most people don’t even know where their nearest Council landfill site is, let alone how much ‘rubbish’ is there. We just drag our empty wheelie bin back in off the footpath. Perhaps if we went to the landfill and saw and experienced it for ourselves we’d change or adjust our behaviours?

Research in the UK, USA and Australia has shown that time poor people are more likely to make poor environmental choices, particularly when it comes to consumption and waste.

A recent study in Perth, Australia, with people who self-identified as ‘aspiring or attempting to live a sustainable lifestyle’ found that people were frustrated by the systemic structures and ‘consumption based solutions’. For example, the push for people to buy an electric car or throw out plastic kitchen wares in favour of ‘eco-friendly products’. The Perth residents said that they were skeptical that small, individual changes would actually make a big difference. They wanted to see big structural changes and collective action such as community or street based recycling and composting schemes.

As more and more food, clothes, home wares, plastics and electricals fill ours bins our politicians, policy-makers and urban planners are faced with unchartered and unprecedented challenges. Do they continue to let us mindlessly and unconsciously consume and give them – the Council – our excessive amounts of household waste? Or, do they need to develop, deliver and perhaps enforce large scale waste behaviour change programs – raising awareness and giving us the skills, motives, support and means to do things differently – so that we value our waste rather than just throwing it away?

What do you think?