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.
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.
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:
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
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.
Australian’s use an astonishing amount of takeaway coffee cups each year.
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.
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:
- If something breaks down, attempt to repair it before replacing
- If you can’t repair, look for a second-hand replacement option
- If step one and two are not possible, consider the following in your purchasing decisions. Buying:
- items made from recycled material;
- electrical goods that are more energy efficient;
- higher quality items that will last longer;
- items that have minimal packaging, or use plastic free packaging; and
- items that are made locally to reduce energy used in shipping.
- Once you decide to part with an old item:
- if it is broken, recycle it wherever possible. See my article on recycling for ideas; and
- 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!
Mobile Phone Infographic
- 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
- 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/
- 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:
- 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