Waste – we hate it, but we create it. There are countless websites detailing the consequences of our waste, but very few providing simple, clear-cut strategies to reduce it. We know we can’t get everyone to go “no waste”, as not everyone has the time or resources. We can, however, significantly reduce our waste on a daily basis with very few changes to our day-to-day routines. And why not? If plastic takes centuries to decompose, why not take every possible measure to minimise your litter legacy for centuries to come?
The mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” has been used so much that people often don’t consider its meaning. In essence, consume less when possible, then reuse what you can. Be honest with yourself about what warrants a new purchase. If you do have to discard something, do what you can to recycle it – anything disposed of improperly becomes a part of your litter legacy, and when you’re long gone, you don’t want your offspring to be buried under your mountains of trash. In order for recycling alone to be effective at keeping the planet clean, we have to have full faith in our offspring’s recycling efforts or we’ve simply delayed our rubbish by a generation. So, what can be done NOW?
Look fab with a fabric bag
Plastic shopping bags are one of the biggest environmental concerns at the moment. Not only are they easily avoidable through minimal effort on our part, but they are often mistaken by sea creatures like turtles for jellyfish and consequently get eaten. This can lead to whatever animal is unlucky enough to consume your bag to die. It’s a crazy thought that you could have already killed a few turtles without even knowing it, just by using plastic shopping bags. Reusable fabric bags fold up to almost nothing at all and their weight is negligible. If you carry a backpack or handbag every day, keep one in there – you never know when it’ll come in handy.
Suck it up and “steel” the show
I’m sure many of you have seen the gruesome videos online of the effects straws can have on sea life and have realised that plastic straws make up a large proportion of plastic waste. What makes this so shocking is that, for the most part, plastic straws are pointless. First, if your drink comes in a glass, the glass has likely been thoroughly cleaned by the restaurant staff. If it comes in a can and you worry about the hygiene of that, there are plenty of alternatives to plastic straws. If straws are really your thing, consider purchasing your own metal straw for use when out and about, which not only looks smooth as a sailor but keeps the environment plastic free – you and the turtles can thank me later.
Second, if you’re not wearing lipstick, there is no reason to use a straw over, well, your mouth (aka nature’s straw). Similarly, plastic cutlery with takeaway meals is equally wasteful. Consider keeping a set of stainless-steel cutlery at your workplace, so whenever you bring back a takeaway lunch, you can kindly ask the servers to keep their ecologically egotistical bits to themselves. Many places will allow you to bring your own container to package your takeaway, so look to do that too if it’s a possibility.
Let this soak in
If you’re anything like me, you like your tea and you like it plentiful. Tea in itself isn’t wasteful, of course, but there are certain ways to drink your tea that minimise the waste that comes with it. Firstly, loose-leaf tea is ideal – who needs bags? It’s usually higher-quality tea, so your palate will be all the more satisfied. The second-best variety is tagless, not individually wrapped teabags. The tags are generally pointless, assuming you use a teaspoon to stir your sugar and milk. Furthermore, when teabags are individually wrapped, close to no benefit arises, as the wrapping is often not airtight and there only for aesthetic value. Well, screw the aesthetics of your tea drinking and let’s focus on our oceans and natural parks (and tea sachets aren’t in this season anyway, girlfriend).
Don’t be a basket case
I like my fruit and veg as nature intended it – fresh from the farm and not wrapped in Satan’s floppy windows (that’s plastic for y’all heathens). Try to find lightweight fabric bags in which to put your fruits and vegetables from the wet market and supermarket so that they can successfully make it from farm to home with zero waste involved. Prepackaged fruit and veg often have cellophane wrapping and either plastic or styrofoam packaging to keep them from being damaged in transit, but these aren’t really necessary – even if your fruit and veg aren’t picture-perfect, the taste shouldn’t be affected. In addition, if you get your fruit and veg from open baskets, you can select the best from the bunch and aren’t stuck with whichever ones were thrown together in prepackaged form.
Don’t bottle things up – it “can” only end in disaster
Picture this – you’re at 7-Eleven, looking at the fridges packed with bottles and cans alike, and you want a soda. What goes through your mind? How much do I want to drink, how much am I willing to spend and do I need a resealable bottle? Very seldom do we consciously think of the benefits of cans over plastic bottles when making this decision. Cans are usually made from almost 50% recycled material and are very easily recycled thereafter. Bottles, however, are prevalent as far as litter goes. If you’ve ever been to a particularly dirty beach, I’m sure you can concede that bottles form a large part of the rubbish there. So unless you really need that extra 160mL of liquid or are in a situation where a resealable bottle is essential, tin is a win. Even better – use your own bottle when possible. You’ll probably end up drinking more water too, so two birds with one stone.
Don’t risk it to get the biscuit
I’m not the only one who occasionally indulges in a guilt-ridden stop at a bakery on the way to or from work, right? Now, what makes this trip guilt-ridden? The calories? The decadence and gluttony? Of course not – I willingly choose this lifestyle and have no shame. However, baked goods seem to get packed inside small plastic bags by default, before you’ve even had a chance to ask for them either just as is, to eat ASAP, or put them into your own reusable container. If you ask the cashier after the egg tart has already been put into the bag, they will most likely throw away the bag anyway, because God forbid a croissant is contaminated by your egg-tart remnants! So bring your own container and make sure you make it blazingly obvious before your purchase.
Get your caffeine fix and your bad habits fixed
Good or bad, coffee is an irreplaceable component of many people’s daily habits. So when you go to Starbucks and get a cardboard cup and plastic lid, you’re contributing to Hong Kong’s already overflowing landfills. Bring your own tumbler, which will not only do a better job of keeping your drink warm but will also completely eradicate any waste you would have otherwise incurred form the coffee shop’s own cup and lid.
No junk in this trunk, please
We all know the frustration of opening your mailbox to find it full of mail, around 5% of which is probably worth your while. Everything you get that you throw away without opening is utterly useless, so try your best to stop junk mail from clogging up your mailbox by cancelling any unwanted subscriptions. In addition, look into getting monthly e-statements from your bank and utility companies as opposed to hard copies.
Note that, with this being an article written for an audience of foodies, none of the measures discussed has touched on changing what you eat or drink, but simply on how it is packaged and presented to you. You can still live, eat and be merry – just make a few small changes and your daily litter legacy will be significantly reduced.
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