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Sustainability Sunday #57

“It’s the simple things”, “baby steps” and other encouraging mottos…

Lately I’ve been thinking how easy it is to complain about something before you take a step back and try to feel grateful about something else. Trying to turn “Urgh my bus is 3 minutes late” into “I’m lucky to live somewhere with such great public transport” or “Deliveroo is telling me I have to wait 45 minutes for my takeaway” into “How amazing is it that I can have any cuisine I like brought to my doorstep?” can be difficult. Similarly, with some of the recent debates I have attended on sustainable fashion, we often focus on the problems and not the potential solutions. So, going forward I’m going to focus on the positive and this week I’m starting with REMEMBER LIFE BEFORE RECYCLING?!

I was pretty young when the household recycling process came into play. I can recall childhood holidays in Europe where you’d get a cent if you returned a glass bottle to a store (shout out to Duinrell caravan park and the nearby Pannekoekenhut of best pancake topping combos in The Netherlands), or the days when you took all of your recyclable items (mainly glass jars and milk bottles at that time) down to a big metal container in a supermarket car park; but I can’t really remember the transition from one to two (or even three or four) types of household bin.

Here’s a fact: the official recycling sign was actually created in the UK in 1970 when a 23-year-old student, Gary Anderson, entered a design competition held by the Container Corporation of America to create a symbol for recycled paper. That very symbol that is now placed on every recyclable item worldwide. If you want to take a stroll right back in history you’ll find that the Romans used to “recycle” their bronze coins into statues, which dates recycling back to circa 30 BC!

However, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Household Recycling Act was passed that we really started modern-day recycling; this means that for 12 years of my life all the waste created by my existence was sent to landfill. That makes me physically cringe. More devastatingly, this means for 43 years of my mum’s life, and 73 years of my Grandmother’s life and the thousands and thousands of others that make up our generation and those generations before us, their waste ALSO went to landfill. Although it’s likely the amount of waste created over their lifetimes is less than it might be for mine thanks to ‘make do and mend’, ‘waste not want not’, ‘re-use until death’ and all those other amazing mantras our generation has seemed to dismiss, it’s still a shocking amount of ‘single life’ product being stashed underground or incinerated.

make do and mend.jpg

Sadly, the amount of waste rejected from recycling in the has risen to 84% (2016), which is around 338,000 tonnes, due to the cost to councils for sorting the waste. Whilst the effort of separating waste in the home is appreciated, if we fail to put the right things in each bin then our efforts are (excuse the pun) wasted. But, let’s look at the positives now: in 1995 we recycled about 7.5% of our waste, these days this is up at around 45% which is pretty good considering once upon a time nothing was recycled!

I can’t even imagine now throwing all my waste into just one bin, it almost physically pains me to put my food waste into the black bin bag (Hammersmith & Fulham Council I’m waiting on you to organise food bins please), so today I’m feeling super thankful that we do have some simple ways to improve our impact on the planet. High five to all you recyclers out there!

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