Guide to Better Waste Management
Written by Hannah Robbins
The materials we drain from the planet are not infinite – someday we will run out of oil, metals, and minerals if we continue extracting them at such a rapid rate. Many of these resources find their way into our goods, gadgets, and machines we have all over our home – which may last for years and years… or not.
Single-use and disposables have also dominated the marketplace since the 1930s, bringing great convenience to consumers and opening another avenue of selling for businesses across the world for the decades to come.
It’s important to understand our relationship with waste – it’s not just bad planning in the last 100 years in pursuit of profit. Consuming immense resource and developing economies at such rapid rates is the culprit.
We have always been confronted with issues when dealing with the waste we produce. In the Middle Ages, it was commonplace to throw it onto the streets and front yards, where it would pollute water streams and spread disease, until the 1350s when Britain started implementing waste management systems.
Even before that, in the Mediterranean there’s evidence that the Romans utilised large dump sites much like modern landfills as early as 200AD, used for waste that couldn’t be fed to animals or repaired and reused.
Really, the question is – if we weren’t to use a landfill, where would the waste go?
Realistically, we have been conditioned with this “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” mentality ever since. It’s only due to our advances in technology and industrialisation in the last 2000 years or so that this has become such a drastic, world-changing problem for us.
This combination of rapid development, technologies that revolutionise the way things are done, and the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” mentality that has fostered this “throwaway culture”. To quote the LIFE magazine article from the 50’s, “no housewife need bother” to do the washing up, when disposables are so widely available at such a low cost.
The problem with plastic
With the rise in consumer goods after World War II, a new type of consumerism took hold of the world, led by business models that encouraged people to throw away and buy new. Mass consumption began to be the norm.
Convenience was king, and little thought was had about the impacts of our throwaway actions. It’s during this time, that plastic was pushed out onto the global market, and we were persuaded and marketed to accept and buy into it.
Since then, plastic has transformed our world, in both good and bad ways.
It’s in our cars, our homes, our hospitals – it protects our foods, provides us with clean drinking water, shields our bodies from injury, and facilitates treatment to patients across the world. It’s in our children’s toys, our TVs, phones, tablets, and you can even find it in our sanitary care products.
We consume 300 million tonnes of the stuff each and every year, and 50% of that is solely for single-use products. We purchase it at shops, cafes, supermarkets and we bring it into our homes and then it either finds its way into our recycling bins, or normal bins, and sadly 8 million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans.
Plastic waste is expected to quadruple by 2050, and global recycling capacity will only cover a third of this. By 2050, this equates to the likelihood that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. That is just mind-blowing.
We were marketed into our plastic habits, 70 years ago. It’s such an integral part of our daily life and plays such a critical role in our consumer behaviour and economy. The issue we need to tackle is improving our waste streams to properly recycle it, reducing our plastic usage and innovating substitute materials that are not plastics, to replace them.
In the last 20 years, there has been a much wider acknowledgement of our waste problems, as well as a change in attitude to disposables and unnecessary waste. There’s been growth in what we can recycle, the efficiency and availability of local recycling plants up and down the UK, more community-based and nation-wide initiatives for disposing of non-recyclable goods to mention a few.
These, though, are not without fault – and there’s always going to be room for improvement.
In this section, we delve into waste management solutions for your home, tips and advice to help you control your waste and create better habits so that only the necessary items go to landfill.
We also do some myth-busting on recycling, tackling common misconceptions and providing in-depth explanation on what materials can be recycled, how to recycle and more.
Managing your household waste
Perhaps the biggest challenge when trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle is managing the waste you and your home produces.
There are many parts of this you just can’t control – even if you’re doing everything right. The important thing, though, is to act where you can make a difference, and change what you can control.
Here are some tips to help you manage your household waste better:
20 tips to manage your plastic waste at home
Whether you choose to do all or only some of these, you’ll still be reducing your waste and in turn reducing your carbon footprint.
1. Swap plastic bottled water for filtered water and a reusable bottle
Water is such a precious resource, and contrary to what you might think, it is not limitless, even on our blue planet. Only 1% of the Earth’s water is drinkable! And production of this 1% takes a very long time.
Taking a reusable bottle with water from your home is a fantastic way to reduce both plastic waste and be more sensible with your use of water. For more information on water-saving tips, check out our Water-Saving Guide.
2. Stop using straws, cocktail stirrers, and plastic cotton buds – or purchase sustainable swaps instead
Choosing to buy eco-friendly versions of these common disposables is such an easy change to make – you can buy them online at affordable prices, and they are even making their way into our high-street shops and supermarkets. Why not try our bamboo cotton buds to start out?
Swapping to a metal straw seems like such an unnatural swap to make after getting so used to plastic straws, but I invested in one a while ago, and I absolutely love it. It’s easy to use, comes with a handy brush to clean it and it’s very nice looking. I think I actually prefer it to any other kind of straw!
Alternatively, there are other eco-friendly alternatives to disposable straws out there that you could opt for, if for example you’re hosting a kid’s party where having 20 reusable straws is unrealistic.
3. Swap single use plastic bags for reusable shopping bags
Whether you use your stock of 10p bags that you have at home, or use rigid plastic, cotton, netted or linen cloth bags, it really doesn’t matter. The important this is to stop buying plastic bags, reuse the ones you already have and to invest in reusable shopping bags. They’re not too expensive, and last much, much longer than their plastic counterparts as they can be washed regularly.
Once your plastic bags have reached the end of their life, recycle them with your local supermarket at their carrier bag collection points.
4. Pack a lunch and bring your own food containers and cutlery
Packing a lunch doesn’t just save you money, but it also reduces the amount of waste you’d generate if you went for a supermarket meal deal.
Bringing your own food containers and cutlery sets also means that if you do want to treat yourself to the food van down the road, you don’t have to use their disposable packaging and cutlery. Take a look at our on-the-go eco swaps, which have some great plastic free products on offer to use when you’re out and about.
5. Swap plastic food bags and clingfilm for more sustainable options
There are so many more sustainable options to replace your traditional single use plastic sandwich bags.
Beeswax wraps and vegan wax wraps are a good, versatile option with many uses across your kitchen, they are easy to maintain and last a very long time. They can be washed and reused again and again, can be stored in the refrigerator, and can last up to a month in the freezer!
If you find they have outlived their use, you can even use them as firelighters, or pop it on your home compost.
Alternatively, you can use reusable silicone food covers instead of using clingfilm. They help to preserve your food in almost any container, come in a variety of sizes and are food grade, BPA free. They’re suitable for both dishwashers and hand washing as well, and will last you a long, long time.
Silicone, reusable pouches can also be a good alternative if you need something that can travel with you outside of the house and can’t use beeswax or vegan wraps.
6. Bring your own hot drinks travel cup
Like the food containers, bringing your own travel mug will help you to say no to the plastic, often non-recyclable disposable cups more cafes and coffee shops use. There are some great reusable travel mugs to choose from too.
You’ll also save money at the same time, as many coffee shops discount your order if you’ve brought your own travel mug!
7. Switch to buying products that use more easily recycled packaging
When shopping either for food or other consumables, opt for the option that uses packaging that is easier to recycle than plastic.
For example, instead of buying plastic bottled drinks wrapped in plastic, you could swap to using aluminium canned drinks that come in a cardboard box, or soft drinks in cartons or glass bottles that are more widely recycled.
8. Swap disposable wipes for reusable cloth alternatives
It’s no secret that wipes are a great threat to the environment. They are non-recyclable, and even some of the biodegradable ones now appearing on the market still take years to degrade and leave behind microplastics and chemical residues.
Using alternatives such as reusable bamboo towels is a great way to reduce the need for wipes. They can be easily cleaned, and when they do reach the end of their very long life, they can be recycled through textile recycling schemes.
There are many alternatives out there to wipes, the key is choosing those made from sustainably sourced, naturally derived materials as opposed to cloths like microfibres, that are made from polymers derived mainly from crude oil or coal.
9. Shopping second-hand is the way forward
Did you know that the fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world? It’s only beaten by the oil industry. Last summer, the charity Barnado’s published a report that found that us Brits would purchase more than 50 million outfits during summer that would only be worn once before being thrown out.
Here in the UK, around 11 million items of clothing go to landfill each week. Fast fashion and modern-day consumerism put an incredible strain on our environment – and we’re all marketed into it. Getting that fresh trend for summer, or shopping from the autumn catalogue as the seasons change. It’s become an inherent part of our shopping habits.
Shopping for clothes on selling sites and apps, in charity shops, second-hand stores and even on social media helps to:
- Reduce landfill – your own waste as well as industry textile waste
- Promote sustainability – not only does it encourage you to look after belongings better, it promotes good habits and recycling throughout your community
- Reduce your carbon footprint – reduces your consumption and demand on the supply chain
- Save you money – second-hand items are much more affordable than high street buys, and can be just as good quality
Another thing to consider is that trends come back around – items that we see in our high street stores nowadays were often trends that began decades ago.
And it doesn’t have to just be clothes – you can get homeware, furniture, toys, equipment, DIY materials, garden items and more all second-hand.
10. Shop with local, small businesses where possible
You’ve probably heard it before but buying local can really help you to be more sustainable and reduce your carbon footprint. This is because it:
- Reduces food miles – these are the miles that the food you buy travels. In supermarkets, much of the food is shipped from thousands of miles around, adding to pollution.
- Supports local land and wildlife – local businesses tend to be smaller operations (aside from farms) and so this reduces the amount of land that needs clearing to support larger supermarkets.
- Fresher produce and less waste – because it’s bought closer to home, there’s a higher likelihood that it is organic and pesticide free, reducing toxins in the environment. Plus, it is often packaged differently, as it doesn’t have to travel as far or be preserved for as long before purchase.
- Supports local economy – supporting local business also supports your local economy, meaning that your local area can develop services that rely on itself more, as opposed to relying on importing and exporting for everything.
11. Dive into natural cleaning solutions
Creating your own natural cleaning solutions at home is a great way to go chemical free and reduce plastic in your home. There are many different DIY recipes available online, the only thing you must make sure of is that you are handling the materials properly and safely. Some great examples of DIY natural cleaning are:
- Natural kitchen cleaner – using 4 simple ingredients: liquid castile soap, distilled water, white vinegar and essential oils.
- Natural Toilet cleaner – using a combination of bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, some distilled water and essential oils.
- Make an abrasive cleaning paste using bicarbonate of soda and water, and your favourite scrubbing tool!
One household chore that can cost us lots of money and plastic every year is doing our laundry. Based on 1 wash per day, with an average 18-wash bottle, we could be using at least 40 plastic bottles of detergent and fabric softener per year.
Using ecoegg’s laundry solutions can help reduce your plastic drastically, and still achieve a freshly cleaned load of laundry every time. The Laundry Egg is designed to clean and soften your clothes, so you don’t need an additional fabric softener. Their Dryer Egg will help to further soften your clothes, replacing the need for tumble dryer sheets, and can also help you save energy as it reduces drying time by up to 28%!
12. Repair things when they break.
When any item even plastic items break, try to repair it where possible instead of discarding and replacing. Often it can be a knee-jerk reaction to just toss out things that break or become ineffective, but repairing them where possible can save unnecessary landfill, and often save you money too.
With advice, how to articles, videos and more available online, it’s easy to learn how to repair so many things, from appliances to toys, to gadgets. Provided you’re taking the relevant safety precautions and not violating any warranties.
There’s also lots of ways to upcycle items like homeware and furniture to give them a fresh lease of life or reusing them for alternative purposes.
13. Plastic-free, eco-friendly pet products
When buying pet products like food and water bowls, choose those made from a sustainably sourced material like Beco Pet food bowls. The bamboo compound is designed to last for a lifetime, and if it is disposed of the materials will naturally break down. Also, instead of buying mass-produced, plastic heavy pet toys, why not shop for eco-friendly options that are becoming more and more common.
Also, choose natural, plastic free pet shampoos, and biodegradable or compostable products for instances where you must use single-use – like poop bags. For cats, choosing a natural wood pellet litter will reduce the amount of synthetic materials going to landfill, and there are even some services emerging that offer a deliver, collect and compost service that sends zero waste to landfill.
14. Swap to bar soaps, or purchase liquid soap refills for a long-life soap dispenser
Many products that come in plastic packaging aren’t recyclable because of the complex layers of materials used – or, not so complex when it comes to the humble liquid soap dispenser. Most liquid soaps you can buy from big chain brands and supermarkets have a plastic and metal mechanism in the pump. This mechanism is difficult to disassemble, which makes these dispensers non-recyclable at most facilities, meaning they go straight into landfill.
Opting for solid soap bars that come in recyclable packaging is a great way to mitigate this problem, and bar soaps last so much longer than liquid soaps. Bar soaps are not any less hygienic than liquid soap dispensers if you take care of them. Making sure the bar can dry between uses or sits on a rest that discourages water to pool under the bar will help not only lengthen the life of your soap, but also prevent microorganisms like bacteria growing.
Most bacteria that does live on the surface of the soap is much like the bacteria that lives on your skin – it won’t harm us, and as long as you’re following good handwashing practice, there’s nothing to worry about. If you are concerned about it, simply rinse the bar under the tap before lathering. Investing in a good quality soap rest is key – and that’s true for all different kinds of solid soaps you may swap to use!
If you still prefer liquid soap, or a bar soap is impractical for your intended use (i.e. a public bathroom) swapping to a refillable soap dispenser is your saviour. There are a range of eco-friendly liquid soap refills you can purchase online, from bulk stores and even increasingly in supermarkets. These refill bottles can be more easily recycled, can be more cost effective and if bought in bulk reduce your wastage drastically.
15. Choose plastic-free period care
Many people are unaware that big brand, supermarket bought period care products like tampons and pads have plastic in them, and it’s not just the packaging. This kind of waste proves a big problem, as it cannot be recycled, and so many of these products still end up in our water waste systems, causing blockages, bursts and even escaping out into the environment.
There are many, many options for plastic free or reusable period care across a multitude of brands and even small businesses. With so much choice, you’ll be able to find something that works for you. Whether you choose the reusable options like a menstrual cup, period underwear, fabric sanitary pads or the organic disposables is an entirely personal decision – but any of them are more eco-friendly and sustainably sourced than off-the-shelf products.
16. Choose more eco-friendly solutions to your personal grooming products
Choosing plastic free hair accessories, brushes and hairbands will help reduce your plastic usage, and in turn reduces what ends up in landfill once broken.
You could learn how to sugar wax for hair removal, by either making your own or buying sugar waxing products to use from small businesses or high street stores. Or opting for a safety razor in place of disposable plastic razors and razor heads. Safety razors last a long time, and provided their disposed of properly, the razor blades can be recycled.
17. Go plastic free in the bathroom
There are so many things you can swap to here, including:
- Solid shampoo bars, conditioner bars, lotion bars – or shop at places that offer a return scheme for their containers, or use guaranteed recyclable bottles
- Plastic free, or natural deodorant packaged in metal tin/aluminium containers
- Shave soap bars instead of canned creams
- Swap plastic razors for safety razors
- Choose toothpaste tablets, powders or eco-friendly and recyclable versions of your normal brands of toothpaste
- Change to a bamboo toothbrush, or use a long-life electric toothbrush that you can buy replacement recyclable toothbrush heads for
- Toilet paper! There are so many more companies, like Who Gives A Crap TP, that offer toilet paper subscriptions, where you can bulk buy plastic free toilet paper. The toilet paper itself can be made from bamboo, recycled office paper and other recycled materials, and the packaging is 100% plastic free and fully recyclable.
18. Say goodbye to single-use wipes and nappies
Or buy sustainable alternatives if you can’t do away with disposables.
With 187 billion nappies thrown away each year, finding a solution to this waste has always been a difficult problem.
Reusable nappies are surging in popularity, with many more eco-conscious parents purchasing them instead of market-leading disposables. Many argue though that it uses more energy to wash and dry the nappies, than to buy biodegradable alternatives.
It’s estimated that if the reusable are washed at no higher than 60℃ and air dried, their carbon footprint will be up to 40 per cent lower than the disposables. If you consider their use for subsequent siblings, this percentage is pushed even higher – and that’s without even taking landfill into account.
If you decide that cloth, reusable nappies just aren’t for you, there are still many biodegradable, eco-friendly options to choose from that are successful, as long as you dispose of them properly.
Wipes are a similar issue, especially due to the plastic in them – but it’s fairly easy and simple to buy or make and use cloth wipes and put them through the same wash with your cloth nappies. As with nappies, there are some biodegradable options in the market to choose from should you need them.
19. Use sustainably sourced firelighters, matches or refillable lighters
Instead of digging out your chemical-based firelighters for those summer BBQ’s and cosy winter night fire pits, use sustainably sourced, eco-friendly options instead, like FireUp carbon neutral firelighters. They are non-toxic, with no formaldehyde or added chemicals, so they are safe when coming into contact with plant and aquatic life and are safe around our food.
Also, swapping from plastic lighters to matches or refillable lighters will help reduce unnecessary plastic waste.
20. Get creative around the holidays and for celebrations
Our household waste ebbs and flows throughout the year, but it tends to increase around our holiday seasons: Easter, Christmas, Birthdays, Valentines, and all those summer parties.
With all of these occasions, high streets, supermarkets and shops are flooded with seasonal merchandise, and they all tend to have one big thing in common – they are either full of plastic, meant to be disposable or surrounded by shed-loads of packaging. It may not seem like a lot in your own home but imagine that amount of waste multiplied across the 27 million homes in the UK and it may make you go weak at the knees.
You don’t have to avoid buying the things that make the holidays, or occasions special – you just have to get smarter with them. Here are some ideas:
- Shopping from farmers markets for your produce, cheeses, seasonal meats, treats and goodies.
- Choosing products that come with less packaging, or more easily recycled packaging.
- Making your own Easter or Christmas decorations at home, either by repurposing wasted packaging into crafts, or recreating items you see in stores from foraged natural items, like fallen branches or pinecones.
- Make confetti from dried flower petals, either from your garden or fallen petals you find on walks in your local area.
- Eco Glitter! Glitter is probably one of the more harmful plastics, as it is so small and can’t be recycled, it ends up in our oceans where aquatic life ingests it. There are companies that product certified biodegradable glitter, so you can still enjoy glitter without feeling guilty.
- Using brown paper, cardboard boxes, and other packaging from deliveries (like the colourful wrapping from your Who Gives A Crap, or SmartAss toilet paper) to wrap gifts. Or, use more easily and widely recycled wrapping paper as opposed to the plastic-filled alternatives.
- Choose to gift sustainable items that help reduce others’ waste or encourage them to be greener. If not, choosing gifts made from sustainable materials, sourced sustainably and that can be thrown away through circular waste channels is best.
- Don’t get a new artificial Christmas tree every year – according to the Carbon Trust, you would need to reuse your artificial Christmas tree for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree. More sustainable choices are buying a potted living tree that can be kept outside during the other seasons and re-potted year after year as it grows, and when it’s too big to fit inside you can plant it. Or there are many rent-a-tree companies across the UK. If you can get away from your love of a real cut tree, buying one in the UK, locally and sustainably grown is the next best thing, and will keep your carbon miles down.
Reducing unnecessary post
Junk mail is a big paper waster, as it’s normally unwanted, poorly targeted and almost always heads straight to the bin. There are a number of ways you can reduce the amount of junk mail you receive, which helps reduce the waste your home produces:
Write to sender
Where mail is address either personally to you or to “The Occupier” you can write or email the sender to let them know you want to opt out of their direct mail. Any organisation that receives written requests to be removed from their mailing list are legally required to stop sending you materials (within a reasonable amount of time).
Register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS)
If you’re receiving mail that has someone else’s name on it along with your address, you can either write to sender or register the previous occupier with the MPS. This can take up to four months to take effect, but it helps reduce 95% of personally addressed direct mailings.
Opt out of unaddressed mail
Post like flyers, supermarket leaflets, vouchers and free newspapers are normally sent by organisations like local councils, central government, utility companies, public service organisations, charities, political parties, local education bodies, local shops and providers of local services. You have two options when wanting to opt out of these schemes:
- Register with the Your Choice preference scheme, run by the Direct Marketing Associationwhich allows you to ask distribution companies that are Association members to stop delivering unaddressed mail to your home.
- Opt out of the Royal Mail’s Door-to-Door service, which will stop these items being delivered to your door within six weeks.
Tick that box
On any form you fill out, whether it’s for competitions, subscription services, or even credit card applications, there’s typically a box that lets you opt out of having your personal details added to their mailing lists. Doing this each and every time helps control the amount of unwanted marketing post you may receive, especially as companies have a right to share your personal data with other companies on grounds of legitimate interest.
Opt out of the edited Electoral Register
The Electoral Register has two versions: the full register, which is used for elections, credit applications and so on, and the open register (or edited register in Northern Ireland). The open register can be bought by any person, company or organisation and could be used for a wide range of reasons, one of which being marketing. You can choose to opt out of the open register, but your full personal details will still appear on the full register. You can find more advice about the registers on the Electoral Commissions website.
Go paperless with your bills
Most utility companies, banks and building societies have gone paperless, though there are still a few that continue to use posted letters. If you still receive paper bills, it’s worth checking on your online account, or with the company directly to see if they offer an electronic system instead, to save the paper.
Don’t pick up that catalogue
Remember the days when almost every home had the classic Argos catalogue, or when your Mum would receive the new season Next catalogue through the post? It’s probably safe to say that catalogues are a dying breed of printing material, but that doesn’t mean that they and their magazine siblings don’t generate waste in your household.
Reducing delivery waste
Online shopping has been gradually been taking over from brick and mortar stores, even more so in light of recent times. With that comes a whole lot of waste from getting deliveries. Though it may sound unlikely, you can reduce your waste from online deliveries. You can:
- Store some packing materials to reuse when you need to post something
- Donate packaging in good condition to local and small businesses that could make use of it for their deliveries
- Recycle whatever you can if it can’t be reused
- Shop more eco-consciously – you could do a community bulk order system in your neighbourhood, which will reduce emissions as well as packaging. Or, shop from businesses that offer a wider range of products that you can order in one order. Read our Guide To Being A Sustainable Consumer for more information and tips.
At SaveMoneyCutCarbon for example, we stock a wide range of sustainable living home products, energy efficient appliances and lighting, water saving showers, taps and even smart home gadgets. We believe in Sustainability Without Compromise, so we make sure we choose products that provide great performance whilst also delivering sustainable results, and save you money.