In our first article, we briefly explained the concept of a carbon footprint and how it is used to track pollution. We linked the WWF Footprint Calculator, one of many similar tools, to help you evaluate your own impact on the environment.
In the second part of our practical guide to a greener lifestyle, we focus on the most obvious kind of pollution that is not that easy to deal with – waste. It is pretty annoying because it seems that in many industrialised countries, including here in the UK, most people don’t know how to dispose of many common products, which are sometimes very toxic to the environment. This means that they often end up in a landfill site, which is the second worst solution (winning only with dumping it somewhere illegally).
But hey! We are here to give you some tips on sustainability hacks which hopefully will help you make better decisions every day.
1. Don't flush the pharmaceuticals
Most people are unaware, but some pharmaceuticals can be very toxic if they end up flushed in the toilet or on a landfill. They can taint rivers, lakes and water supplies- drastically harming the environment .In many countries, including the UK, you can bring any expired medicine to your local pharmacy and they will dispose of it, for free. You can simply take it with you next time a pharmacy is on your way.
2. Bring exhausted batteries to your supermarket
Batteries should NEVER be thrown away into household bins as they contain harmful heavy metals such as lead, copper and lithium. These toxic substances can spread throughout the soil and ultimately into our water supplies. So, how should you dispose of them? The easiest way is to take it to your local supermarket. In the UK and most European countries, they are obliged to provide a container for exhausted batteries.
Not surprisingly, electrical and electronic devices shouldn’t end up in the dumpster. There is a reason why all of them contain this symbol on the packaging:
Electronics usually contain a lot of heavy metals that can be, again, toxic when they contaminate the soil and/or water reservoirs. They also contain rare-earth minerals that can be recycled. This is important, because mining is always a very polluting process.
The first question before getting rid of any item should be – is the device still working? If yes, you should consider donating it to your local charity shop. Alternatively, you can put an ad on sites like gumtree or facebook marketplace. It only takes 15 minutes - all you need is a photo or two, a short description of the item and its condition and your contact details.
You might be able to make an extra buck, too. To check the market value of your electronic device, go to ebay or a similar platform and search for your device. For best results, apply a filter to show only finished auctions/listings and look at the most recent ones.
But what if it’s broken? Big items, like washing machines, dishwashers and especially old fridges/freezers can be collected from your address on behalf of your local council, usually for free - you can check specific rules for your area here. Alternatively, you can search online for “scrap metal collection [your city/town/area]” to find local businesses that are eager to collect any metal items you want to get rid of.
If your old earphones don’t justify a big trip to the store, the trick is to keep collecting electronic waste over time until it takes enough space to convince you it’s time to get rid of it.
4. Addressing the elephant in the room – furniture and other big items
If the item is past its prime, so to say, most local authorities/city councils offer free collection of such items. You can check the rules for your area here.
Items made of metal can be collected by local scrap metal businesses - search online for “scrap metal collection [your city/town/area]”
5. Recycle! Recycle! Recycle!
Obviously, that’s a big one. It is crucial because, according to Friends of the Earth, most of the UK’s waste is currently buried in landfill sites, which release greenhouse gases and pollute the soil and water. Recycling reduces the need for raw materials such as metals, forests and oil, therefore reducing our impact on the environment as extracting these materials is a key cause of global habitat loss. Recycling common packaging materials generally uses far less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials.
Unfortunately, recycling schemes differ between different areas. But you can easily check those by stepping outside of your house and looking at the labelling on waste containers. You can also search online “recycling rules [your city/town/area]” or enter your postcode on Recycle Now website. The website also gives you tips on materials that cannot be recycled and how to recycle those that can be, whether its an everyday or particular item.
Still, there are some general rules to follow:
- For most places, there should be at the very least recycling containers for packaging and paper; in many places for glass and food waste, as well. Having 2-3 bins for different types of waste is really low effort and there’s no excuse not to do it.
- Check the packaging before discarding. Make sure it is also complying with the labelling on recycling containers.
So, there it is! Your everyday tips to avoid toxic waste pollution, made simple. But there's more where that came from. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be looking into the best tips in food, fashion and transportation sustainability. Stay tuned!