Is 'zero waste' just a headline?
Nathaniel C. Wyeth. Not a name I was familiar with until I started to think about this article. He was the man responsible for the PET bottle. The patent for which was granted in 1973. So we can all celebrate 50 years of the plastic bottle in a few years. Oh goody. Every single PET bottle that has ever been made will be in landfill or, more horrifyingly, dumped somewhere on the planet, in the ocean or a beach. Used for minutes. Lasts forever.
Recycling - the easy, not so easy, option
PET bottles are everywhere. The producer of the bottles profit. The producers of the liquids that go into the bottles profit. They're let loose into the world, sold in their billions every year. And these producers keep churning them out without a second thought to what happens to them after they have been used. The mere addition of the 'recycle this' or a recycling logo isn't taking responsibility. It's simply a way to pass it on to everyone else. Despite Government legislation on producer responsibilities, it's still a case of 'slopey shoulders'.
Councils are targeted on recycling rates. We’re all told to ‘Recycle for Scotland’ or ‘Recycle for England’ or wherever you may be. Why should we be left to sweep up the mess?
They took the time to tell us where we could buy it. It was made. Packaged. Shipped. We bought it. We drank what was inside it. We no longer need or want it. The shop we bought it from doesn’t want it back. They tell us to recycle it. So we put it in the recycling bin. Or perhaps a lot of people don't, because the recycling system is so confusing and unclear that no one really knows what can and cannot be recycled. Wouldn't it be so much easier if the producer really did have to take full responsibility for every bottle they produce? What if every bottle had to be returned to the producer to deal with? Doesn't that sound fair? No longer anyone else's problem as the business has added it to their business requirements.
The ‘zero waste’ movement is commendable and I admire people who are able to stick to it. I tried it and failed. And put myself under a lot of pressure whilst doing so. At the time, there were no 'zero waste' or refill shops near me (there is now) and I really had to go out my way to get what I needed. It was a total chore. Even now, with a fabulous refill/zero waste shop on my doorstep, I still have to go to the supermarket and will sometimes pick up plastic packaged products. I do try to minimise it and I make sure I try not to feel (that) guilty about it.
I do believe that the term 'zero waste' places far too much pressure on the individual. In terms of having to avoid packaged products but also to putting pressure on 'us' to solve the waste problem. It’s nigh on impossible for most anyone to be 'zero waste'. It's a practice and it takes a lot of time and effort. Awareness. And money. The zero waste movement also highlights the issue of poverty. Going ‘zero waste’ means that a person or family will have to be in a fairly privileged position in life and not merely thinking about surviving day to day or week to week. Or relying on food banks. And the people who are in poverty, who are not 'zero waste' or even close to, are the ones who will not be flying, driving etc and so their carbon footprint will most likely be lower anyway. Bigger issues that aren't for this particular article.
Waste is to the public, what junk food is to children...
People worrying about recycling or waste and Councils (or Governments) being made accountable for recycling targets is like making children responsible for their own weight gain or sugar highs and lows. Adults choose the food their children will eat. It’s not the child’s fault they then crave sugar or are badly behaved when their sugar levels are all over the place. If businesses are the adults then Joe and Jane Public and Councils are the children. We’re being left with the consequences of the poor choices being made by businesses. They serve up the bad food and we're left to worry about what goes into which bin. And our world is being destroyed because of it.
Now, what if parents chose good, nutritious food for their children? Children would be healthier, more alert, potentially more balanced and better behaved. What if businesses were forced to take full responsibility for everything they produce? The products, the food, the services, the packaging. If you put it out there, you bring it back in to your business to deal with. If you profit from it, you own it. The packaging (or product) is delivered back to you to deal with it. And if you can't prevent it from going to landfill, you need to choose a different material that can be remanufactured, reused or recycled.
A business that takes true responsibility for what they make and sell is a business that is worth buying from. And I don’t mean bullshit greenwashing of ‘recycling’. I mean those businesses who will repair, who will take ownership of the product, take it back when we don’t need it anymore so that they can use the materials again or resell the product. And stop it needlessly going to landfill. Sadly, those businesses are few and far between. But they are out there. And whilst we may not be ultimately responsible for waste, we can take responsibility for consciously reducing what we buy and put in our bins. We can take responsibility for choosing better than we did yesterday. We can buy cans of juice instead of plastic bottles. We can choose a refillable water bottle instead of buying into the mindlessness of the bottled water industry. This isn't 'zero waste' - this is Conscious Humanism.
Stay conscious, Jaxx x
A little side note about the Deposit Return Scheme
I have used the example of PET bottles as a simple illustration of the bigger problem of all waste. The Deposit Return Scheme is being introduced in Scotland. Still, the onus is on the general public to save their cans or bottles and toddle along to their nearest deposit machine to put them in and get some money or a voucher as a reward for all our effort. It still makes us responsible for cleaning up the mess made by big business. Albeit, the scheme is a step in the right direction.
You can also read about Producer Packaging regulations here. Regulations that are not enough (takes you to UK Government website)