With wildfires, floods and extreme heat waves raging all across the globe now, the problems of climate change and global warming have become more apparent. The biggest perpetrator of this is the huge burden of waste created by a single species – human beings.
Our day-to-day activities generate huge amounts of plastic and other kinds of waste like metals, wood etc which are rarely processed and broken down to recycle. Most of them aren’t recyclable and eco friendly in nature. Of this the biggest problem is plastic waste and it gets more troublesome since most of our products are a mixture of plastic and other materials, making it difficult to segregate.
This has a huge impact on the environment as the recent UN Climate Change IPCC report has shown. This report calls for fast action and more concentrated efforts to reduce methane emissions, along with carbon emissions. The report clearly states how all human activities from the prehistoric times have affected the earth, changing its climate and flora and fauna.
In the next few decades, waste reduction will be the key to Earth sustainability and for that we need to understand how waste reduction can help in reducing pollution in land, air and water. The best way to answer it is to align it to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and check how waste reduction helps achieve those goals.
Let’s take a look.
SDG 6 – Clean Water & Sanitation
The UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 speaks of environmental action required to make clean water and sanitation accessible to all. This is the most important sustainable development goal right as the deadly covid19 pandemic is sweeping the world.
According to IUCN statistics, the world generates 300 million tons of plastic every year, 8 million of which end up in water. While most of them are in seawater. Our rivers, lakes, ponds and other waterways aren’t far behind. This is because of the huge waste generated by us and released into the water in the form of plastic, food materials, woods, metals and other things. Most of it can’t be treated in our sewage treatment plants that well, especially plastic.
So reducing them is the key to better water supply and sanitation for all.
The best way to achieve this is to switch to ecofriendly products in our day-to-day life that reduce plastic waste. So, instead of regular Styrofoam food containers, plastic combs and toothbrushes, masks, trash bags, straws and other cutleries, plastic menstrual pads etc. use the ecofriendly, biodegradable and sustainable alternatives like sugarcane bagasse, bamboo or areca leaf containers, neem or bamboo combs and toothbrushes, reusable masks, compostable trash bags, coconut cutleries and biodegradable menstrual pads.
Furthermore, eco-friendly bath and bathing products like detergents, bath salts, handmade soaps, essential oils, shampoos, body butters, even cosmetics can reduce the microplastic waste and prevent the release of toxic chemicals into water which makes it non potable.
SDG 7 – Affordable & Clean Energy
The UN Sustainable Development Goal No.6 calls for environmental action to make clean and affordable energy to all. Energy consumption is a prerequisite of all our activities in life but most of it comes from nonrenewable sources like fossil fuels which adds to emission. So, clean energy from renewable sources like tidal energy, hydro energy, wind energy, solar energy is the key. But much of this is a costly affair often not affordable for people.
One way to do this is reducing waste and going for alternative household things that can generate energy from waste. Creating energy from waste saves one ton of CO2 per ton of waste.
Every year we generate 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste, 33% of which aren’t treated in an environment friendly way. The average daily waste generated by a person is 0.74kg.
Using recyclable and reusable things like menstrual pads, masks, biodegradable food containers etc can greatly reduce waste and also make the waste generated more usable for power generation. This serves the purpose of making clean energy available in 2 ways. First, most of these products use less water and electricity in manufacturing. So less power consumption and better power conservation that aids in energy affordability. Second, the waste to power generation from these products is relatively easy. Thus making clean energy available for people.
Most municipal solid waste (MSW) is heat treated to generate steam energy used for power generation. In fact, waste incineration and waste power plants often generate power from these waste by reducing the volume of waste by 90%. They can be used as fuels for vehicles.
One estimate in the US shows that 85% of MSW can be used as fuel to generate electricity. These waste to energy plants turn 2000 pounds of waste to 300-600 pounds of ash, reducing the volume of waste by 87%.
Thus we see affordable and clean energy and waste reduction go hand-in-hand and eco friendly products can aid in the process.
SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities & Communities
As you can see we generate huge waste in whatever activity we do. Our daily lifestyle isn’t environment friendly but waste friendly. Most of the waste we generate ends up in the garbage and then in landfills, making our cities unhealthy.
Every year India generates 62 million tonnes of waste each year. Of this only 70%, 43 million tonnes are collected. Even a lesser amount (12 million tonnes) is treated. 31 million tonnes of it ends up in the landfill.
The only way to reduce this huge waste of plastic cups, mugs, containers, plastic bags, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, paper, food items, etc is to switch to eco friendly alternatives like eco friendly menstrual products, coconut cutleries, eco friendly food containers, bamboo or neem toothbrushes, compostable trash bags etc.
The world generates 40 billion plastic food cutleries like spoons, forks, straws, bowls etc. On an average every person uses 1.6 plastic straws every day.
All this ends up as waste. Think how much you can reduce by a simple switch.
This simple switch not only reduces waste and makes our cities sustainable but they also empower people, making sustainable communities since they generate employment opportunities for local people and fosters community activity.
SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption & Production
It may not seem likely but waste reduction is an effective way of fostering the idea of Responsible Consumption & Production.
By adopting ecofriendly alternatives of our regular items like clothes, beauty and bathing products, kitchen products we can reduce the extent of waste generated as most of the alternatives like organic masks, handmade soaps and body butters, organic mosquito repellent sprays, ecofriendly kajals, face serum etc lasts long. They may be expensive but on average organic products, especially food items like juices, have a longer shelf life – say about 2-4weeks more than conventional products. For clothings it can be longer.
So, buying an eco friendly product reduces your need for buying more products – thus making way for both responsible consumption and production. Moreover since they are produced naturally often without much processing, there’s zero to no energy and water consumption in the manufacturing process.
SDG 13 Climate Action
As the new UN Climate Change report speaks of reducing methane footprint along with carbon footprint as a climate action, the necessity of using eco-friendly products like sugarcane bagasse plates, areca leaf plates, coconut cutleries etc. have come to the forefront.
More than 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions like carbon and methane come from our daily household products which can be changed.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2019 municipal solid waste landfills generated methane emissions equivalent to carbon emission from 21.6 million vehicles. This is equivalent to the carbon emission from 12 million homes in a year.
So, imagine how much you can contribute to climate action just by using a neem toothbrush or an areca leaf plate or an eco-friendly soap. Since these products are biodegradable in nature it reduces the amount of waste in landfills and in the ocean. Using a simple eco-friendly alternative like organic cloth mask can reduce the 1.56 billion face masks that ended up in the ocean in 2020.
SDG 14 – Life Below Water
80% of marine debris in the world is made up of plastic which makes life below water impossible
Life below water is threatened by the huge amount of plastic waste we generate by using plastic products like cups, straws, spoons, forks, food containers, trash bags, cosmetics, menstrual products etc.
Nearly a million seabirds die because of microplastics debris that fills the ocean from our household products. IUCN statistics show 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
Our simple act of adopting a neem toothbrush or using eco-friendly disposable kitchenware in our food business or household events can greatly reduce this plastic waste burden and save life below water. Moreover eco friendly organic cosmetics like Kajal, face serum etc can reduce the toxic chemical waste and Microplastic that kills corals, turtles and other marine life.
So, that’s how sustainable products help in achieving various UN Sustainable Development Goals.
How Online Sustainable Shopping Reduces Waste?
Sustainable Shopping is the backbone of reducing waste especially if it is done online.
Dedicated sustainable shopping firms reduce the amount of energy consumed and wastage involved in the production, packaging and shipping of products. They work locally and do it individually without much processing and exploiting people. They might not be fast like the average online shopping firms but they are more energy efficient.
Also as they sell and produce sustainable products alone you are destined to get a variety of products sourced from different regions without any hassle.
Sustainable products may be a little expensive in quality but they are better suited for longer use and less likely to have adverse reactions on your body. So, these products make your life waste free and healthy and when you shop them online you are ensured of a lesser carbon footprint than offline as you can get many products in one place and don’t need to travel much for shopping.
Ways To Reduce Waste in Daily Life
The job of waste reduction is a full time work, it doesn’t end at purchasing sustainable products online. To make it work you need to adopt certain changes in your daily life. Changes that are easy and gradual work best in this regard.
Here are certain tips of reducing waste:
- Use eco friendly alternatives for your daily use products like stationeries, toothbrushes, cutleries etc.
- Purchase less but invest more on better things
- Look for reusable things when purchasing products online
- Repurpose your worn out things like coconut utensils, toothbrush bristles etc for decorative purposes or planting.
- Follow the instructions on products for longevity
- Try to purchase most of your products at one go so that they can be shipped together to reduce packaging and transport waste.
- Keep your items according to specific conditions to prevent spoiling them.
- Use less plastics in daily life and store your plastic waste in bigger plastic bottles filled up to the brim air tight to turn them into ecobricks.
- Preserve your food items in brine or salt water to make it last longer and compost things more often.
- Eat and purchase seasonal and local things rather than imported ones.
- Buy less low quality physical products that stay in the environment for a long time like washing machines, dishwashers etc.
- Unplug your chargers and adaptors when you are done charging.