That was normal, until it wasn’t.
It would seem odd to have a coal fire today. We know what recycling is supposed to be about. But we still bury a hell of a lot of rubbish.
One of the greatest scandals about waste in Aotearoa New Zealand is how little we know about it. Reliable data wasn’t collected before 1995. Before then it appears the approach was very much ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We shipped a lot of our rubbish to China, until the Chinese started refusing to take it in 2017.
We know that waste is growing across the OECD. In Aotearoa New Zealand each person now sends an average 401kg of residential waste to landfills every year. With industrial waste included, that becomes 898kg a head. That means I’m personally responsible for the burial of five times my body weight each year. That’s a lot of Chit Chat wrappers and bread bags. I’m indirectly responsible for another five Andy bodies of waste, made up of God knows what from the factories we all buy from. Ten burials a year. I can look at my garden now and imagine how fast that would all build up and sicken the daffodils.
Humans have essentially taken this approach for thousands of years. We bury, burn or ‘throw away’ what we don’t want anymore. We seem to think that makes their components miraculously cease to exist. Thankfully, we don’t burn rubbish commercially in this country, yet, although it’s being proposed. But methane seeping from old landfills now accounts for 4% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Landfills are well engineered to stay intact these days. But geological layers of old nappies and coffee cups does not suggest a healthy respect for the mauri of Papatūānuku. And every single piece of rubbish is a design failure that we’re all paying for. Waste collection is now a billion dollar industry in Aotearoa New Zealand. Everything discarded leads to the extraction of new resources for replacements. It all adds up to a planet in crisis.
The very idea of waste must go the same way as the dustmen and the coal fires. We need to make it a thing of the past.
That’s the premise and promise of the circular economy. Our current approach is linear. We take raw materials from nature. We make them into things. We use them for a while and then they’re wasted. Most of what we currently call recycling only gives some products a few more laps before they head underground.
In a circular economy resources are not abandoned to become pollution and waste. Goods and services are redesigned to keep resources in use and safe circulation. This new economy is already emerging. It's being built at different rates in different industries and places, backed by some of the world's largest companies. But it still needs a lot of support to make it the norm. It’s important to promote, support and vote for the circular economy idea wherever you see it. There’ll be a lot of trial and error involved in finding new waste free ways of doing things. They sometimes might seem less ‘convenient’. But, while reducing our consumption is still the best way to reduce waste, you don’t have to abandon all the good things in life to help out.
Our top 5 tips to cut waste from your everyday life
- Organic kitchen and garden waste, as well as paper, makes up the majority of what goes in landfill in Aotearoa New Zealand. Compost or Bokashi all the garden waste you can, and ensure you recycle your paper.
- If you can, avoid buying beauty products and shampoo with plastic bottles and lids. Buy refills or minimally packaged solids from companies like Emma Lewisham and Ethique. Or, you could even have a crack at making your own!
- Carry your own lidded cup and bowl. That way you can eat and drink on the move without the plastic ones you bin after a few seconds use.
- If you can, shop at refilling shops or old fashioned markets, to cut down on packaging.
- Live in a city centre? Consider traveling by foot, bicycle or by shared electric scooter or car. It will help cut your household’s vehicle use.
This article first appeared in OnMAS, created in partnership with MAS.