2017 is very important for me as it is the year of my transition toward realizing a zero waste life. One of my goals for year-end 2017 is to be able to reach a stage where I will no longer produce any waste that goes to landfill. For all my organic waste, I’ll be able to have them composted. For my other types of wastes, such as plastics in particular. I will have them properly recycled. I will do the best I can to make sure that nothing that I produce will end up in a landfill. But I should also be very careful here not to get too much attached to the idea of recycling. I think we should all note this. In waste hierarchy, reduction rests on the very top of the pyramid, while reuse comes second and recycle as the very last and the least preferred option. The world nowadays is singing fanfare about recycling. But to tackle the waste problem that is inundating our modern lives, reduction is the most effective way.
For anyone who does not quite understand why reducing is the most effective way, this illustration below will help you grasp the idea immediately.
Here are some of the exemples of how I am reducing the wastes that are generated in my daily lives.
Reducing through avoiding consumption of paper resource.
Up to this moment, there is no longer paper towel or tissue in my apartment except toilet paper. I use cloth towel in the kitchen, napkins for meals and other towels for general cleaning purposes. This photo below are three napkins that I have folded into flames. By substituting paper towels with cloth towels, I have avoided the consumption of new paper resource thus have reduced my waste in this respect. Also, the two small glass jars in the photo are from the chocolate pudding that my sister had bought from Carrefour. Now I have found them a new life. Hope you would not find my little decor a bit too tacky.
Reducing through avoiding plastic packaging
I took this photo below from December last year while I was passing through the cashiers at a supermarket. Though I have already started buying some food without plastic packagings, I am NOT proud of myself at all. Compared with many zero waste life pioneers and practitioners, I am only embarrassing myself with this photo. In this year of transition, I am going to eventually find substitutes for all my current food choices that come with plastic packaging. For example, replacing packaged meat with fresh meat and packaged vegetable with the ones from farmers’ market. I am highly optimistic in achieving this goal. One piece of additional information is that starting from January 2017, all single-use plastic packagings that are non-compostable and thinner than 50 microns, especially the ones that are used to carry food and vegetables, will be banned in supermarkets in France. This legislation provides quite a good incentive for citizens to move away from single-use plastic packagings.
Reducing through reusing existing resources.
There is a tray up on my desk inside which I have kept all the used papers. Most of them are used only on one side and some on both sides but still with a significant amount of space left. I intend to use them throughout the year without buying new notebooks or papers. Every time when I pull out a piece of paper from the tray, I will first and foremost write on the top left corner “Save paper resource” to enhance my consciousness, so that when I actually start writing on them, the message is always there reminding me and I’ll always try to be efficient with the space on the paper. And what will happen to them once they are all used up? Well, I have a little worm compost bin that will arrive by the end of this month. Hope my little worms will all be fantastic gourmands.
In fact, this paper tray was originally a drawer from my three-layer drawer unit that is now my bookcase. I removed the top drawer, which is now my paper tray and I placed my books directly onto the bottom of the second drawer. I like it so much. It is not a big bookcase so it does not take too much space on my desk. But it is big enough for me to keep all my favorite books. I can also use the supports by the corners to hang my other stuff..say…my headphone. 🙂 As for the bottom drawer, I use it to keep all my blank A4 papers to be printed on which will also probably end up in my paper tray then become food for my worms. It’s highly likely that this year I will not have any additional paper consumption. yeh~~
And check out this one more exemple about reducing through reusing existing materials. I cut off part of the juice box and made it into a small container for my seasoning jars.
As you can see from the photo, all the caps for my seasoning jars are made of plastics. I have read and watched and researched enough materials to understand the impact that plastics have on the environment, on the food chain and on human health etc etc. I am particularly hostile to single-use plastic packaging which is made for people to throw away. What about the ones that are made to last? I think I can live with a minimum level of plastics as long as they help me save resources, avoid additional waste and do not create problems for others. In terms of health risks, it will become even more insignificant as long as I am to reduce plastics instead of increasing them. In the case of my seasoning jars, right now they are working really well for me and I’m sure that I’ll be using them for a very long time. Is it really necessary to have them all replaced? Will replacing them require additional material consumption? In that case, will that add to the waste problem instead of reducing it?
Reducing through repairing.
Apart from reduce, reuse and recycle, there is also repair. If you have solutions or little tricks that help you prolong the life of your stuff and save resources. You should be proud of yourself.
Reducing through refusing.
When you are being offered a single-use plastic bag. Simply say “No, thanks. I don’t need plastic bags.” Another particular case of mine is that I have stopped giving and receiving traditional business cards made of paper. Instead, I now take contact information directly with my phone or I’ll write them down in my notebook. Or if there are many cards, I’ll take photos of each one of them. In APP store, there are also a great number of applications that can scan business cards then grab information automatically from the scan. It is always the younger generation who develops new trends, sets new norms and brings major changes to our society. The effect of saying no can be very powerful. Simply say no and be a member of the generation that makes the change.
Here are two digital cards that I have designed for myself. You can either take a photo to keep them in your phone, or click on them to get in touch with me directly.
Though I have shared with you some of my practices in waste reduction, I am really Not proud of myself at all. I’ve only started not long ago. There is still so much to be done and many challenges to confront. For example, I still can’t quite get into full practice with recycling. For glass bottles and papers, there is no problem with that because there are recycling stations in every community over here particularly for that. For food scraps, I’ll start my little compost by the end of this month. The real problem though, in the place where I live, there is a waste collection point shared by two residences and in many cases you’ll find all sorts of wastes mixed up inside the bins.
Sometimes I do put my plastic packagings and other stuff except glass and papers inside there, yet I doubt that the hauler who comes to collect them will send them to a recycling facility because of all the nasty food scraps inside the bags. Neither can they go to a composting facility because the food waste inside the bags is probably contaminated by other wastes. Therefore, the options left would be to send them directly to a landfill site or an incineration facility which certainly will cause pollution. I need to further look into this. Nonetheless, we must not point our fingers at the residents as waste recycling entails a systematic collaboration. Any party or chain that fails to function will render the whole effort futile. If you look at the photo of the collection point, there is no clear instruction to tell us when, what and how to dispose our waste. Though there are some indications on the bins but this is not really very effective. There are supposed to be, for example, clear instructions attached on the wall at the entrance, unfortunately there is nothing up there, yet (I hope).
As this transition year gradually unfolds ahead of me, I’m sure that I’ll also be facing a great number of issues. Whatever they may be, I’ll be very willing to share with everyone of you. Probably some of you Zero Waste Life gurus can offer me great advice. And for those who have not yet started or even thought about transitioning to a zero waste life. I would like you to know that I am an ordinary citizen, same as every one of you. I am no expert in zero waste life. I grew up in China where our current level of awareness and practice is gradually picking up but still far far behind the developed world. I had spent three years in Kenya where individual citizens in general have not yet developed this kind of awareness. I personally had never sorted my own waste until I came to France 2 years ago. Neither have I done composting before. My logic is nothing but a simple one – If, by the end of 2017, I am able to pull this one off, then everybody can do it. I can assure you that whenever you are going to start taking your own zero waste initiatives, you’ll only be regretting for not having started it earlier.
In the end, I would like to share with you the “RE” that I think is the most important and powerful one that precedes all the other “reduce, reuse, recycle, re..etc….” This one is called “Rethink”.
Indeed, in order to transition toward zero waste life, we need to rethink the value for our stuff. We need to make sure that the value be extended and even improved so that it will last in the most possible manner. We also need to rethink our current way of life. Are we still going to continue living a throw-away life being completely oblivious to the impact on the environment as well as on our lives? As taxpayers, we pay our governments to handle our waste. But pay attention here, it is still OUR WASTE that are generated by OUR personal activities. No matter who we pay to handle it. Waste is our problem therefore is our business. We should rightfully come up with our own solutions.
Most importantly, we need to rethink the value which we pride ourselves in as an individual or a citizen in our society and modern lives. We always uphold this value of being a responsible person. We respect and appreciate those who are, for example, responsible parents, responsible friends, responsible employers, responsible professors, etc. etc. and we’d despise those who escape responsibilities. But when was the last time that we actually thought about being a responsible human being to the environment, a responsible citizen of the earth. It is time to rethink the values that truly shape ourselves and then to act upon them accordingly.