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I thought I was helping the planet by recycling…I was so wrong!
I want you to be careful with the previous statement, I am not saying that recycling is a bad habit, I am simply trying to make you think outside the box.
FROM HOARDER TO WANNABE MINIMALIST
I’ll try my best to sum up what brought me to this place I am now, where I am trying to have a healthier relationship with planet Earth.
Since I was little I always wanted to know how Nature became what it is, more specifically, where did all come from? I am not going to get philosophical here, although I could, but it’s not the purpose of this post. After a little while, I also became interested in knowing where did all go? and whilst I was trying to figure this out I became a hoarder, I wanted to save everything, from birthday cards to pencils, to pretty containers, I thought I had to give everything some use because it was my stuff, my responsibility.
I didn’t know the R’s…you know: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and whatever other R you can imagine……
Until one day in school when they taught us how to recycle paper from the newspaper. That day, my Mum must have thought I was crazy because once I got home I started to take all the papers from my old notebooks and I made piles and I told her we had to take them somewhere to recycle! And so I began from the bottom. Many years later, I found a great community of people in my country that was growing, a group that was getting together to recycle. I actually thought I was helping the environment by recycling!
From Venezuela to the UK
I moved three times in my life before I came to the UK, first from my Mum’s house to my Grandmother’s house to go to uni, then with my husband to an apartment and finally I moved to London. The first two times I couldn’t believe the amount of things that I had, and I was impressed when the last time I could fit my life in two suitcases! It made me think I actually didn’t need that many things! And although I have accumulated lots of things since I arrived, that thought stayed with me, I was moving to another country and I really didn’t need must of the stuff I had.
After I moved to London I started to see how different our societies were managing the waste problem. A new world was revealing in front of my eyes and suddenly things that I thought were just ideas and dreams in my head, started to have names like the Zero Waste Movement, Circular Economy, and Cradle to Cradle. I was stunned! I finally was hearing something that resonated with me, I wanted to have less stuff, I wanted to travel the world light and truly enjoy life!
Waste management is different in each country, you might even notice that each county or council or whatever way your region is divided, it makes things differently. In Venezuela what I saw was a lot of people like me, worry about the rubbish, getting together and contacting with companies in order to recycle their trash, because the system per se only goes and transports your trash to the landfill.
In Europe, at least what I’ve learned from a course I took with an institute from Spain was that IF the system works properly, going to landfill will be the last step. They collect, separate (mechanically or manually), distribute to the place where the material is meant to be recycle (the part that they can recycle), compost and then if there is no other choice they either take it to landfill or in some cases they even burn it.
The Key factor
Just for a moment imagine the system was perfect! I just want you to think about something, what is the key factor here? There is a number of things that could go wrong in the process, but there is something or someone without whom none of that would be possible. Did you guess it? It’s you! The participation of the community is vital, because if you don’t separate your rubbish and just put everything into general waste, it’s way more money that the government (who indirectly is you with your taxes) have to pay for someone else to do the first step in the chain. If your waste it’s not managed correctly, it could end up in the forest, the park, swirling through the air or in a place very far away (that should be pristine) like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
However, many other things could go wrong in that system, not to mention that the system as it is, is not perfect. The law is not as strict in some places as it is in others, for example in Germany is compulsory for you to separate your waste and take it to the recycling containers otherwise, you get a fine. In some places they don’t have the technology to recycle all types of plastic, so it’s cheaper to take it to landfill than to transport it to another facility. Furthermore, where do you think the landfill is? It can’t be near the city for hygiene and environmental reasons, you know; rats, pestilences, heavy metals in the soil, so they use a space far away, maybe the countryside? Even if they built the landfill in a proper way, meaning sealing it so it doesn’t leak or generates toxic emissions, if by any chance, a so-called “natural disaster” occurs near that place, we would have a problem. In the end, we are only hiding the waste under the rug.
SHOULD WE STOP RECYCLING?
Not at all! You just have to be conscious about it. A few tips:
- REDUCE! That is why I like Zero Waste movement so much, because if you reduce you don’t have to worry about the following steps. Also, you save resources and influence the market to find other solutions for you!
- When you buy something that comes in a package, make sure the package is easy to recycle or compost, like glass or compostable paper. And please, STOP buying non-recyclable things, like the film plastic where they put the bread (check the tiny sign that says “this film is currently not recyclable”). When you buy something, you are investing in that company! Invest wisely!
- Make sure you know how does the waste management system works where you live. This means, knowing what they recycle, and when they pick up the waste from your house.
- Once you know what they recycle, you’ll have to: buy only the things they recycle (this is particularly tricky with types of plastic) or save what they don’t recycle so you take it somewhere where they handle that waste.
- COMPOST. Where I live they have a system that picks up the scraps from the food we eat, but if they don’t do it where you live, take it to a place where they will or give it to the plants as food :). Although is good you read a bit about this, otherwise, you might attract flies or other animals.
- READ. Knowledge is power! In the end, if we want to make a positive change we have to be informed. At the moment of writing this post, I am reading Cradle to Cradle, so far I really enjoy the view they have where we can copy Nature by having a technical cycle of things, you know like the life cycle, but applied to cars, shoes, etc.
Imagine a world where you are awake and conscious about what you buy, that you as Nature, understand the cycles, a world where you know what things are made of and where will they go, imagine actually being part of the ecosystem.
I’ll be posting more information and tips on how to have a more sustainable lifestyle here and on my Instagram, I am on my way as well, and so I will be sharing my struggles and how and if I have managed to overcome them.
Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show