Victorians are rabid recyclers. Twenty years ago, almost nothing was recycled. Now, we recycle 62 per cent of our solid waste. That’s a big change. Not only is this a big deal for our environment, recycling also creates six times as many jobs for Victorians than sending waste to landfill. So far, so good.
Unfortunately we’re also consuming a lot more than we did back then. There are more of us, and we’re buying more stuff than we ever have before. Each year we still send about 4 million tonnes of waste to landfill.
So far, not so good.
Some of the stuff we dump, such as electronic waste and fluorescent lights, contains toxic materials. These toxins leach into our soil and groundwater, creating lots of problems and affecting our health.
Other stuff, such as organic waste, creates greenhouse gases when it’s buried in landfill, which is why we’re campaigning to increase our organic waste recycling rates to 80 per cent.
The biggest problem, though, is the loss of embodied energy, water and raw material. It takes a lot of our water, energy and raw materials to produce the stuff we buy. These valuable and scarce resources are lost every time we dump our used products into landfill.
In fact, producing the foods and goods we buy is responsible for more climate change than our household electricity, gas and transportation combined.
You can see the problem here. It’s an unsustainable cycle. So what’s the solution?
Let’s start at the beginning. We’re a brainy bunch. We can be much smarter about the way we design our products, so that they don’t end up in landfill.
We call it sustainable production and consumption (SPC). That’s our code for taking into account the whole-of-life impact of the things we buy, (including the water, energy and resources we use to make them).
We get there by firstly by making manufacturers responsible for the things they produce. We call this extended producer responsibility (EPR).
That may sound like more jargon, but it basically means that manufacturers become responsible for collecting and recycling their products when consumers are finished with them.
It provides incentive for them to improve the design and manufacture of their products so that they can be more easily recycled or last longer.
We’ve been campaigning to introduce EPR for electronic waste for many years. And, as a member of the Boomerang Alliance, Environment Victoria supports the push for a container deposit scheme, which is another form of EPR. Introducing a ‘cash for containers’ deposit system, like the one they have in South Australia, will help lift our recycling rate and support the development of infrastructure for other EPR schemes.
One of the easiest changes you can make though, starting right now, is to simply buy less stuff. (It’s the first step on the waste hierarchy, if you’re keen to find out more.) The idea is to declutter your home and your life, making more room for the things that really matter to you. Things like learning a new skill, spending time with family and friends and being active outdoors, all of which can boost your happiness levels much more than owning extra material possessions.
You’ll feel good and future generations will thank you for it.