July 24, 2017

Meg Farrough

The ABC thinks it’s time to get serious about our waste, and after watching the War On Waste, I couldn’t agree more. The network took one of their favourite investigative satirists, and put together a beautifully light yet informative show about Australia’s waste production.

I’ve always considered myself relatively environmentally conscious when it comes to the waste I create – I recycle my paper, I always put rubbish in a bin – but after watching the War On Waste, it’s safe to say I was falling short. As a self-proclaimed ABC nutter, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to spend more time on iview, and with The Chaser presenter Craig Reucassel at the helm, War On Waste promised a relatively entertaining way to spend an hour of my time.

It turned out to be one of the most eye-opening shows I’ve watched, at least in terms of the impact I myself can make.

The three, hour long episodes covered many different aspects of our waste production, including food waste. Between producers, companies and consumers, we waste 3.3 million tonnes of food a year. To use Craig’s signature measurement, that would fill the MCG six times over!

What really struck me in episode one was just how much food is wasted before we as consumers even get to look at it. Fresh fruit is constantly wasted because it’s too big, or too skinny, or it has a spot on it, so the supermarkets won’t take it. And with everyone blaming the consumers, it’s hard not to think that maybe in this day an age of shiny technology, we’ve started expecting too much from our natural fruits. Still, I’d be happy to eat a fat apple.

Clothing waste was also addressed, showing that every ten minutes, Australians throw away six tonnes of clothes. That all goes straight to landfill, and it doesn’t even include the clothes that go to Savers, the Salvos, and other charity and secondhand clothing shops. In one year, it translates to two and half MCGs worth of clothing.

Naturally, plastic bag pollution was also covered, a sore subject for a lot of politicians who have yet to support a plastic bag ban – currently in Victoria we don’t have a ban, despite the motion being put forward previously to ban any bag made of plastic (which includes the ‘green bags’ sold at most major supermarkets). There is currently an investigation into the best way to put a ban on plastic bags without being too encompassing.

Craig also explored recycling, highlighting our confusion over what’s recyclable and what’s not, such as aerosol cans – for future reference, if they’re empty, stick them in the recycling, they won’t blow the machines.

What spoke to me the most from the show however was the coffee cups.

I didn’t realise that takeaway coffee cups are not recyclable. In fact, if you put them in the recycling, they can compromise the rest of the paper recycling, due to the small layer of plastic on the inside of the cup to keep the liquid from degrading it. As a hot chocolate addict, this was news to me. I always put my cup in the recycling thinking I was doing the right thing – turns out, I was making it worse! We throw out 50 thousand cups every half hour! That’s a lot of waste, and biodegradable cups are no better!

So how do we as singular people in a big problem help make a difference? I think it is particularly hard for younger people to make the impact that they might like to make, but everyone can do something. No matter how small it may seem at the time, every little difference helps.

 For starters, I went and got myself a five dollar take-home coffee cup the day after the show aired, that I can wash and reuse with ease. The more we can avoid using the takeaway cups that cafes give out, the better off the environment will be (especially when you take into account how much water goes into making a single coffee cup – definitely get a cup you can just rinse and reuse).

Alongside this, you can start trying to support cafes that do a discount if you have a reusable cup. You can look up cafes that support reusing cups at and it’s always worth checking with local cafes if they do as well. If they don’t, it’s very easy to politely suggest that they could give a 50 cent discount and help save the environment.

Spread the word! Share Facebook clips, engage in conversation, only buy one scone to start with – you can always go back. Tell your friends to bring their own cups too – it’s time to start a revolution! The more people who are on board with the idea of changing their environmental impact, the better off everyone will be.

The places where young people tend to find it more difficult to impact are in the family food waste, and clothing areas. There’s only so much you can do if your parent buys three days worth of food and only cooks two – but you can still help.

Start insisting on saving leftovers. My family cooks more than we need on one night, but instead of throwing it out, we save it for breakfasts and lunches the next day. If you have a garden, a compost bin is easy to set up, and it allows for food waste to degrade naturally. It’s great for your plants, and it’s great for our environment. If you’ve got a pet, I seriously doubt they’ll ever say no to suitable food scraps.

Enforce the idea of proper recycling.

Spending a minute making sure you’ve sorted your recycling from rubbish can make huge impacts. Make sure to take the lids off bottles, and empty them of liquids. This allows for the machines to sort them properly. Nillumbik Council has a soft plastics recycling collection, but you can also take soft plastics to some major supermarkets, who have recycling bins there. I didn’t know you could put things like chip packets in them too, so make sure to keep note! Councils can tell you more specifics about what can and can’t go in the recycling.

Good quality clothing is difficult to afford for young people, so we often buy what’s called ‘fast fashion’ – cheap clothes that last us a month, then we need to buy more again, and those clothes aren’t good enough quality to be reused. If you’re fortunate enough to have mum/dad buying your clothes, make sure to get good quality – buying a more expensive jacket of good quality now is going to save money (and the environment) in the long run. If you’re a bit strapped for cash, buy secondhand. There are always brilliant finds to be made at Savers or the Salvos, and it means those clothes don’t end up in landfill, and some of the proceeds go to those less fortunate.

We need to put pressure on our governments too.

Plastic bags do not degrade, they harm animals, and they’re rarely reusable. It’s time for plastic bag bans nationwide, and not all states have them. Even the states that do have bans have a fair few loopholes. Ask whoever is doing the shopping at home to get/take reusable bags sold at shopping centres, and put pressure on your local MP to step up and insist on change. If enough people send emails, make calls, post of Facebook, they might just listen.

As the people who will be inheriting the planet, we need to take important steps to protect it. If we all start making little changes, more people will get on board, and larger changes will occur. We need to take care of the planet we live in, and waste is something we are all capable of improving on if we show a little bit of consideration.

The show is currently on iview, and it is well worth a look. I give it five curved Lady Finger bananas out of five.

Come join me and fight the #WarOnWaste


Meg Farrough

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