Australia, blogging

Changing the Material World

If you were challenged to produce only one wheelie bin full of non-recyclable plastic refuse per month, when a busy beachside café in my region, operating seven days a week can, and does, could you do it?

It requires planning, but The Boneyard Espresso proved it’s not that difficult. If they can do it, you can too. To help you achieve a reduction of home landfill waste, I called upon sustainability blogger, Megan Tennant to share her tips on becoming more sustainable.

Author Bio

Hello! My name is Megan Tennant and I am the author of a sustainability blog called ‘Local Impact’. You can find me at localimpactsustainability.com. I have always had an interest in sustainability, and have done things throughout my life to reduce my impact on the planet.

However, after having children, I looked more closely at my family’s lifestyle choices and began to analyse how we could do things better. Becoming less reliant on material items has been a key goal of mine. I have spent a lot of time looking for ways to live without an abundance of things and would like to share the tips and tricks I’ve found, to help you to make your own ‘Local Impact’ on the environment. I would love to hear any tips you have for living a less material lifestyle in the comments below.  

Material World

When I embarked on my sustainability journey, one of my key goals was to become less reliant on material items and reduce the waste I produce. I wanted to consume less materials and only buy things that I needed, with a preference for buying second-hand over new. A key sustainability challenge for society is to use far fewer material items. Every item that is created uses energy and resources to manufacture and use. It is simply not sustainable to continue the production of new items at exponential rates. Resources will deplete and the impacts on climate will worsen due to numerous factors, such as:

  • Increasing greenhouse gas emissions will result from fossil fuel derived energy used in manufacturing; and
  • deforestation and destruction of habitats due to land clearing for mining of raw materials.

The good news is that we can all make our own ‘Local Impact’ by reducing our reliance on material items. Next time you are thinking about buying something, whether it be a new TV, a pair of shoes or upgrading to the latest mobile phone, think about whether you really need it.

Are you buying the item because your previous one is broken beyond repair? Or is it because you are being influenced to buy a newer and flashier version of the same thing?

Brands use all kinds of marketing techniques to encourage impulse buying. By pausing to consider why you want to buy something new, you can assess if you actually need to make the purchase, or consider if you can find the item on the second-hand market.

I found this to be particularly true when I became a new mum. Marketers make you believe that you need absolutely everything to be a great parent! Which of course is not true. But in a sleep-deprived state, it sure is tempting to believe them. I started my parenting journey buying everything new. A new cot, clothes, high chair. You name it, I bought it! After I settled into the parenting journey (and perhaps had a little more sleep!) I began to ponder my purchasing decisions. Why did we need to buy new things? And so my quest to buy only second-hand items began. The quality of products you can buy second-hand is amazing, with many items barely used as kids grow so fast!

Buying used items is a great way to get the item you want, without depleting more resources and potentially burning more fossil fuels to make the finished item and deliver it to your house. 

While the packaging used by the things we buy is easily forgotten, it is a big contributor to the number of material items we consume. It helps to be aware of the packaging used for items you are buying.

For example, do you use a takeaway coffee cup or a reusable cup when buying coffee? Do you buy items in plastic packaging or attempt to find items with no packaging?

Making decisions that reduce our reliance on single-use packaging makes a difference. 

To put things into perspective here are some simple illustrations of how much our material purchases and choices to use single-use items can add up:

Mobile Phones

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This mobile phone infographic illustrates the sheer volume of mobile phones that are in circulation in Australia and the resource-intensive nature of producing them. Although mobile phones are an essential item in our society, we can reduce our impact by using our phones until they are beyond repair, rather than upgrading every time a new model is released.

Phones are often thrown away for cybersecurity and software compatibility reasons once they are no longer supported. When it does come time for a new phone, choose one from a manufacturer that has committed to providing software updates and security patches for a long period into the future. This information can be found online and ensures your new phone will be secure to use for several years. For information on how to recycle your old phones, check out my article on recycling. 

Plastic Shopping Bags 

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This case study shows that even the humble supermarket fruit and veg bag as a very simple form of packaging, quickly adds up to huge material use. An easy way to make a difference is by choosing not to use supermarket plastic fruit and veg bags. In the case study, bananas certainly shouldn’t need a bag, as they come in their own natural, protective packaging that already keeps them together as a bunch!

Reusable fruit and veg bags are a great alternative and have worked well in my family for years. I keep them with our stash of reusable shopping bags, so they are always ready for a trip to the supermarket. I have Onya produce bags, which are made from recycled plastic bottles. 
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Coffee Cups

Australian’s use an astonishing amount of takeaway coffee cups each year.

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We don’t buy a coffee for the disposable cup, but it is still a material item that is a product of a purchase. It takes resources and energy to produce the takeaway coffee cup. A simple way to reduce your impact is to bring a reusable coffee cup when buying a takeaway drink. I have used reusable coffee cups for years. They are easy to pack in a work bag, put in the car for travel or bring on a walk to the café. It’s the best way to enjoy a coffee without the guilt of throwing away a single-use item. For the kids, I purchased a couple of pre-loved plastic cups and spoons from an Op Shop, so they can also enjoy a Babycino in a waste-free cup when out and about. 

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Conclusion 

In essence, aiming to only buy what you need is your best bet. Here are some tips for informing your decision to make a new purchase:

  1. If something breaks down, attempt to repair it before replacing
  2. If you can’t repair, look for a second-hand replacement option
  3. If step one and two are not possible, consider the following in your purchasing decisions. Buying:
    1. items made from recycled material;
    2. electrical goods that are more energy efficient;
    3. higher quality items that will last longer; 
    4. items that have minimal packaging, or use plastic free packaging; and
    5. items that are made locally to reduce energy used in shipping.
  4. Once you decide to part with an old item: 
    1. if it is broken, recycle it wherever possible. See my article on recycling for ideas; and
    2. if it still works, gift or sell to ensure someone else can use it. 

By considering your purchasing decisions more closely and using less material goods, you can make your own ‘Local Impact’. 

For other sustainability articles, check out my blog at localimpactsustainability.com!

References:

Mobile Phone Infographic

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, Population Clock, available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs%40.nsf/Web%2BPages/Population%2BClock?opendocument=&ref=HPKI  
  2. Statista 2021, Total number of mobile phone connections in Australia from 2015 to 2021, available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/680482/australia-number-of-mobile-subscriptions/ 
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates, available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/environment/environmental-management/waste-account-australia-experimental-estimates/latest-release  

Take-away coffee cup infographic:

  1. Sustainability Victoria 2021, Eco-friendly alternatives to disposable coffee cups, available at: https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/disposable-coffee-cups 

Thank you, Megan! While we know that industry needs to take the biggest step up in terms of improving waste practices and reducing plastics, the phone and coffee graphics outlined above, indicate each one of us can personally make a substantial difference not only by refusing those takeaway cups but also rethinking our material lifestyle.

Amanda StPA

88 thoughts on “Changing the Material World”

    1. Mine, too. And I always re-sell or donate goods I no longer want, but I do I wish we could revert to the system where farmers could collect our vegetable waste to use as animal feed, but that has been forbidden now for many years. Vegetable peelings, dead flowers, plants etc. are my greatest waste products and I have no garden compost.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I am waiting patiently for my local area to bring in the FOGO (food organic garden organic) collection service where you can put food scraps in the kerbside green bins. I do have a compost bin at home but avoid adding meat and dairy to prevent rats coming. FOGO takes these food products so it would help me to further eliminate food waste in my landfill bin. I wonder if there are any community gardens in your neighbourhood who would accept your kitchen scraps?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Are there many FOGOs operating in Australia, Megan? I have not heard of it in Queensland. Meat and dairy cannot be compostable in the usual fashion and is another obstable to overcome. If we eat less meat based meals, there is less to dispose off. Using all the animal and asking butchers to trim down meat products, as well as using all the parts of the meat product in different ways – to make bone broth etc. are some ideas that come to mind.
          What do you think of having a worm farm for scraps?

          Liked by 4 people

          1. I believe FOGO is pretty prominent throughout Vic and NSW. ACT is also trialling it now, but not in my suburb. They even allow bones to be placed in the FOGO bins. Agree on the meat front – eating less has a number of environmental advantages.
            I love the idea of worm farms. I don’t have one, but it is on my list. You can also use the worm juice and castings for the garden which is a bonus.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Megan, you must get one. Start with a small one. They are super easy to manage. My garden loves the worm juice and the castings help break up the clay soil we have here near the sea. The worms are really the saviour of the soil.
              No Fogos yet in Queensland, that I have heard of.

              Liked by 3 people

        2. No, I’ve enquired, but I’ve recently met a local gardener who thinks she might be able to take my waste if I can deliver it to her. I can’t drive due to a macular condition, but I may be able to get someone else to do it. The reason that farmers no longer collect waste products for their animals in the UK is to avoid a recurrence of BSE the awful disease they had a few years ago (Mad Cow Disease).

          Liked by 1 person

        1. It was to make sure the food being passed to the animals was as pure as possible – pure isn’t the word I want but I’m having brain fog at the moment! It was thought that the disease was being passed in the food chain. I don’t have a scrap of room in my small garden for even a small worm farm but my local council has a weekly collection of food waste which is composted (we can buy the resulting product as fertilizer). The only trouble I have is fish smells and cabbage smells as I eat a lot of both! Left in the garden the waste attracts unwanted visitors.

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  1. Being a frugal woman by nature I am resistant to marketing campaigns intent on getting me to upgrade just for the sheer delight of it. Uh huh, not going to happen. We do our best to recycle plastic and use our own coffee cups when we can, but it’s a challenge. Great post.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thanks Ally, being frugal is also great for the environment! Nothing wrong with that 🙂 living sustainably certainly has challenges, particularly when many systems don’t make things easy, for example needing to take different recycling items to various locations rather than putting them all in our home kerbside bin! Cheers Megan

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This is a great, and thoughtful post. And a lot of these suggestions are so easily achievable: the net bags to hold the loose fruit and vegetables we buy; your own coffee cup instead of a throw-away one; use charity shops. But it remains true that the best-intentioned still fail through no fault of their own. The electrical appliance that ‘can’t’ be repaired; the perishable goods that could be packaged in card, but are still enveloped in plastic – and whoever decided that bananas needed to come in a plastic bag? Definitely avoid those! And while I feel that many of us are well-intentioned, the amount of litter in town streets, and even on country verges tells me that there is still an awful long way to go.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Hi Margaret, I agree, even with best intentions companies don’t make things easy, for example by not manufacturing spare parts to fix appliances after a certain time period, designing things to break after warranty period etc. There are some movements in the ‘right to repair’ and ‘circular economy’ spaces, so let’s hope progress is made in this space soon! We even have a local repair cafe that opens periodically to help people fix things.

      Packaging is an area I am passionate about too! I also wish more things were packaged in cardboard or compostable packs. I guess we can make change with our wallets by choosing products with better packaging where possible, to create consumer demand. Writing to companies to provide feedback on packaging is also an option – if enough people do this, companies will see the demand and hopefully make change.
      Cheers Megan

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Megan, you have given us some great ideas to address the stubborn producers that are not looking for alternative sustainable packaging. Society is changing as consumers become more educated about the catastrophic scale of the plastics issue, but it is slow and it helps to give companies a bit of a prod in the right direction. I think we should do a follow up joint post on example of companies that are the worst offenders in terms of excess plastic packaging and provide ideas on how to write to them. What do you think?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda, great post. People laugh at my phone which is going on ten years old. They no longer make the cover for it is so old.

    There many easy things we can do. Here are a few more:

    – power down turning off all computers, chargers, etc. over night.
    – walk more on short errands
    – eat every ounce of leftovers
    – the expiration date posted on food packages is often a “best if used by date”

    Great ideas in your post as well as the supporting factoids. Keith

    Liked by 8 people

      1. It is encouraging to hear that you can still use the decade old phone and it has enough memory to manage phone calls. I have an ipad that was purchased in 2013 but I have just now been prevented from updating it as the memory is too small to even allow for the system update. I only used one app on it for podcasts and sadly it it is now unusable. What a waste given that it is still functional in other ways.
        Generally speaking, can you imagine the changes if we had this kind of philosophy towards household tools?

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        1. Amanda, the industry is geared to sell the newer, faster and better. I have never been a car person, so I buy a reasonably nice vehicle and take care of it. We have had cars eleven, twelve even fourteen years. We keep TVs and laptops – I am typing on a ten-year old laptop as we speak. I better knock on wood on all of these. Keith

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Keith – you are so sensible in terms of your lifestyle purchases. It is heartening to hear of your pro-active attitude to caring for the environment given many retirees do not share your thoughtful ethos.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thanks Amanda. I did hear an excellent discussion on NPR by a social-scientist at Kings College in England who has studied data on generations for fifteen years. He noted there is not as much difference in the generations as people portray. He noted that differences are more due to where you are in your life, single, married without kids, married with kids, empty nesters, seniors, metc. He also noted that seniors vote with their money on environmental issues more so than younger adults and teens. The latter, of course, are more concerned with the environment, but he noted while Greta Thunberg has a seven million followers, some social influencers have 150 million followers telling the kids to buy new stuff. It was a quite fascinating glimpse that we need to walk the talk more and not just “like” something. Keith

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              1. I am surprised and shocked that influencers that give little back are twice as popular as Greta Thunberg. Is ot wrong to think it is an indication of society’s misguided priorities and the emptiness of their inner selves. That they must follow the “questionably charismatic,” for ideas, inspiration and entertainment?

                Like

              2. Amanda, it is surprising in numbers, but to think about it, we are the United States of Entertainment, and long have been. Our citizens are very ill-informed about the news issues of the day, as we spend so much time on entertainment and sports news. So, the fact an influencer has twenty times the followers of a Greta Thunberg shows where most of the interest lies. If some of these influencers started to make these issues more known and suggesting people get involved, then it may be hard to reach some, Keith

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              3. The United States of Entertainment? Yes you most likely are. It reminds me of the Danish King who in the ?17th century built an amusement park right in the centre of the city for all the citizens to use. His idea was if the citizens were entertained and distracted, they would not mount a revolution against the monarch.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. And add your voice to sites and platforms that demand that governments take action as well. No place is more wasteful of scarce resources than government offices and if they don’t set an example, it makes some others think, “Well, why should I.”?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A really good post.
    People talk about recycling all the time, but it is the third “R” behind Reduce and Reuse, and those are the places that make the biggest impact I think. Reduce the number of plastic bags you use (maybe there should be a fourth “R” Replace!) Reuse them if you must take them, and of course Recycle them. I just made a dozen produce bags from scrap quilting fabric, a great way to Replace!

    I feel fortunate to live in a state that has been very conscious of preservation of resources. Our recycling law is mandatory, and as of two years ago it includes all food scraps. At our transfer station, there is a large bin where the scraps are collected and local farmers will use this in their compost. I’m sure there are folks that don’t take advantage of this, but in the long run if they do they will save money on their disposal fees, and that is often the biggest incentive to recycling wastes of all kinds.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dorothy – your state sounds like it has a great attitude towards improvements in waste handling and recycling. You are spot on about “re-thinking” the process of how we deal with waste.
      The scrap fabric bags are a wonderful idea. Ping me back if you post about them – I would love to see them. However, is it an issue at the supermarket checkout when they can’t quickly see what is inside, to weigh and price it? Or do the vegetable purchases work differently over there? Here we select our fruit and vege from shelves, (unwrapped) – place it in a plastic or mesh bag and it is weighed and priced at the checkout counter. If I must use the plastic option to bag my fruit and vege, I reuse this thin plastic bag as a dog poo collection bag, eventually I will use an alternative even for dog poo – burial or wrapping in some sustainable package prior to disposal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I put the produce in the bag and it is easy for the clerk to just look inside. It is a little harder for bulk items such as oatmeal, things that need to be secured before putting in the basket. The co-op has little tags to write the item number on and sometimes they fall off the bag! It’s a little problem I haven’t figured out yet.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Our recycling bin is pretty full every fortnight. I do wonder if what goes into it is actually recycled or is it disposed of elsewhere. I really hope not. I also take a bag full of soft plastics with me to the supermarket whenever I go too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Whether recycling gets to the correct destination is a big challenge! There is contamination from dirty containers and items that are not able to be recycled. Sometimes it is more costly to recycle than to ship our rubbish overseas to a third world country as landfill. We feel we have tried to do the right thing but it is not yet a complete solution.

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  6. Excellent post, Amanda. My husband and I have significantly reduced our garbage waste and our compostable food waste over the years. While we have definitely reduced our plastic recycling — we are aiming to do better in this area. I now simply refuse to buy items at our grocery store that are significantly overpackaged.
    As for larger items and electronics, we tend to hold on to them as long as we can.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I feel so proud that my blogger community is already doing so many things that Megan has identified in her guest post. Well done, Donna! I also make a protest against overpackaging by looking for alternatives that aren’t packaged. Covid has unfortunately encouraged the re-packaging of some items but hopefully this is only temporary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agree, I also shop around for items with no packaging or at least paper/compostable packaging rather than plastic where possible. Buying second hand helps with this too as items tend to be packaging free! COVID has definitely put the emphasis back on packaging and using takeaway coffee cups! Hopefully things begin to reset.

        And agree Amanda, it is amazing to see the great initiatives everyone is taking to help our planet 🙂 Cheers Megan

        Liked by 2 people

  7. There is so much to say about this subject that it could be a month long discussion if not longer. There are SO many areas that we need to work on. I have the mesh bags for veggies and my grocery bags are getting quite worn so as soon as I get my fabric, I’ll make replacements. They are encouraging more plastic waste these days as no one wants to have anything touched by anyone. If I buy something like sliced cheese in the market, it has to be put in plastic before they can hand it to you. We tried to take containers to the market and they would not use them. Health laws won’t allow it. I only buy certain things in glass containers because I don’t want the waste of plastic. Where I’m living now, they recycle plastic,etc, but not glass! I also saw this video in some research after another blogger commented about the waste from thrift store clothing. I saw a news blurb about it earlier in the year as well. Heartbreaking.

    I’m not sure what it will take but something needs to change. I took 4 outfits & 3 pajamas with me mid November. I’m still wearing them. I have nothing else. My clothes are all old and when I’m done with them, they are good enough that I would wear them before being passed on or they are mop rags. I didn’t even buy a commemorative t-shirt while traveling. Any souvenirs were sustainable. Some chocolate, ornaments or a calendar. The plastic waste from hospitals has even the nurses cringing. There was quite the conversation with one after my sister’s surgery. I’m ready for a solution. The only new furniture I will be getting in my new place is my bed. I sold or gave away everything else to someone that really wanted and needed it. Wasn’t worth the cost of storage or moving it. Bad enough I had to store so much other stuff and then move it here. This will be it’s last hurrah. Please keep looking at this till we come up with ways to do better. I’m in.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The textile waste is a huge issue but slowly the narrative is changing. People are keen for second hand items and the pandemic has slowed the influx of cheaper and cheaper items from the third world. I remember this show airing here and it is shocking to see that the third world has become a dumping ground for the first worlds excesses and unwanted items. I have clothing items that are 10 years old, or more. I do buy new items but try for timeless pieces and look after them so that they last and last. I remember a time when I was young and living in rental accommodation, working as a nurse, so wearing hospital uniforms all week through and I had just five outfits to my name plus two pairs of jeans. It was all that I needed.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s such a shame you couldn’t bring your own containers due to health laws! It is such a simple way for us to refuse more plastic packaging. Good on you for trying! I am noticing more shops are allowing me to use my reusable coffee cup again now but many didn’t accept them during covid for way too long.

      Medical waste is an interesting one too. Obviously we need to maintain infection control standards and with that comes waste. But there are opportunities for example for hospitals to recycle soft plastics and other packaging types. I would love to see progress in this space.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I would love to see progress in so many areas too. Covid has had a major impact on going backwards in this area. The nurses hated throwing away those space blankets that were used once and tossed where the homeless could use them to keep warm in winter months. I’m not sure what the answer is but we have to keep trying.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. We definitely need to keep trying! It is a ‘wicked problem’ with no simple answer unfortunately. But it is heartening reading the comments on this post and seeing how many people are doing amazing things to protect our planet. Individual action adds up to big action!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I went for a walk today. I took a plastic bag with me, and picked up kerbside trash as I walked. I filled, and emptied into waste bins (some of which were only a few steps away from the discarded trash) three times. I find it so hard to believe how many low-life scum there are on this planet, who just throw things ‘away’ with no consideration of what they’re doing.

    In other news: I’ve been in touch with my local milk delivery service, and discovered that they deliver fruit and veg too. On their website, they show pictures of the produce, loose in cardboard boxes. I checked with them and they confirmed that that’s how they deliver them. So, I’m going to be ordering my fruit and veg from them from now on, instead of buying it from the local supermarket (which sells every. single. item. wrapped. in. bloody. plastic!)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That is great news! There are services here operating in the same way. Some are seasonal produce – so you get a random box, or for a higher fee you can pick and choose your fruit and veg. I am still on the fence as I like to select my own fruit and veg from a stand – unwrapped! However, I will continue to support these services. They are a wonderful small business that appear to be growing substantially as people look for alternatives to the supermarket duopoly we have here.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Good on you for picking up other people’s rubbish! It is so disheartening seeing so much litter everywhere, particularly when it is next to a bin!! When I am out and about if I generate waste that can be recycled or composted I always take it home with me to appropriately dispose and avoid it entering landfill.

      Like

      1. I went for another walk yesterday. I saw a large plastic bag, and at first thought: ‘nah, it’s too big, I don’t want to be bothered carting that all the way to the next bin.’ But I reconsidered, picked it up, and, continuing on, filled it to the brim with crap I picked up as I continued on my way. Then I deposited it in a waste bin in the nearby village.

        WTF is it with people who clearly don’t give a shit about their neigbourhood? I despair, I really, really do.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. How true. We’ve been on the path for three years to becoming as sustainable as possible – https://myhomefarm.co.uk – but despite our efforts we’re still getting through stacks of plastic recycling. It’s insane how much plastic there is in the world, and it’s virtually impossible to buy anything that doesn’t have plastic somewhere.

    Like

    1. Gosh how I hate plastic! It is ubitquitous, isn’t it? We are drowing in it. It will take a long long time to remove it from our lives, but we can do our best to remove it in any way we can. That is a start.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There really is no excuse for littering. It is just laziness. The Japanese with their enormous population density have cities that are cleaner than a whistle. They see it as their personal responsibility to deal with their rubbish.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I had a look at the link and I wonder why people think it is acceptable. In Singapore you will cop a hefty fine and if I did it here, I would feel guilty about it for years! I would rather inconvenience myself that toss away a piece of plastic. One of your commenters mentinoed plastic- filled urine bottles – what on earth?

      Liked by 1 person

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