The world, unwrapped

It’s been a minute since I picked up the pen but I couldn’t resist writing about what’s going on in sustainability – especially waste – right now. Since I started this blog, sustainability on the world stage has gone from a niche, first-world ideology to semi-mainstream table-talk. Here in Australia, the most recent propellant has been Craig Reucassel’s ABC series War on Waste in which he experiments with sustainability and myth-busts some of our broadest assumptions regarding recycling, waste management, and consumption, amongst others.

The impact of Craig and his team’s work has been impressive. Mainstream Australia is discussing and acting on sustainability initiatives. Take, for example, coffee cups. I wrote about disposable vs reusable coffee cups in one of my earliest posts, with an assessment of the environmental impact of each. Amplified over most australian’s love of take-away coffee and disposable (and critically, non-recyclable) cups have become a significant waste stream. Well since War on Waste has gained traction, an industry group called Responsible Cafes have also gained traction. They promote the reduced use of disposable coffee cups

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And it’s really starting to catch on. Indeed, my local café, Something for Jess gives a 20c discount if you BYO cup. That may not seem like much (and it doesn’t cover the saved cost of a disposable cup and lid) but it sends a strong message of the café’s sustainability ethos and provides an incentive for punters to make the effort.

“Here in Australia, the most recent propellant has been Craig Reucassel’s ABC series War on Waste in which he experiments with sustainability and myth-busts some of our broadest assumptions regarding recycling, waste management, and consumption, amongst others.”

It’s not just coffee cups getting wrangled since War on Waste entered combat, plastic is also getting targeted. Councils Australia-wide are promoting ‘plastic-free July’ in which participants can choose to reduce, as much as possible, their use of single-use plastics in the month of July. Some councils are offering workshops and the like to guide folks through the process. Even if these new habits don’t stick, it’ll hopeful help people think twice before buying something wrapped in single-use plastic. I’ve written about this here and will continue to, whilst we still see things like this on our market shelves:

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What were they thinking?

For anyone interested there’s some great guidance from sustainability guru Alexis McGivern on her blog No Plastic Please. I saw many of her tips implemented on a recent trip I took to Portland, Oregon. Oregon is known as a particularly sustainability focused state with high levels of renewable energy use, many many Toyota Prii (for more on cars check this out), and one of the most bike friendly cities in the world. On the trip back to Sydney I took Alexis’ advice of filling up my canteen after passing security at the airport and drinking from that on the plane. The flight crew thought I was mad but the quantity of plastic thrown out after one long haul flight is staggering. I’ll continue that one!

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Portland, the weird land of the Prius (source)

Now, I hear you thinking: “This is all beaut stuff, but we’re in relatively wealthy, major cities. In emerging economies this is an even bigger problem”. Maybe so, but their citizens are arguably more innovative than us! Take Tateh Lehbib Braica, who has been building houses out of plastic bottles filled with sand in the Algerian desert.

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Tateh, the innovator’s engineer (source)

He certainly gives new meaning to the repurposing movement and puts my tree-branch clothes hanger to shame! The challenges with plastic bottles remain – almost infinite decomposition half-life, possible environmental contamination, etc – but at least the folks living in this harsh environment have a sturdy abode. In many emerging economies there aren’t managed landfills so Tateh’s technique also keeps the neighbourhood clean and tidy.

There are no perfect solutions when it comes to plastics and disposable wastes. I’ve written about the foibles of recycling [sic]… “down-cycling”. The very best solution is to reduce use, followed by reuse. We’re a long way from hitting the mark but at least we’re on the right track and I commend Craig and others driving to get recognition for these issues. The message is being heard now more than ever.

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