Lifting the Lid on our Rubbish
Our home is our sanctuary, when we no longer have a need for something in it we throw it out to bring order back into our lives. Ideally we separate the trash into recyclable versus non-cyclable but the reality is that a lot of recyclables end up in the wrong bin, sent to landfill or worse end up polluting our natural environment. Once we’ve put our rubbish & recycle out for collection it disappears from our lives but not the planets, the reality of what really happens to all this waste is quite daunting.
As consumers we go through about 300 million tons of plastic a year, with 8 to 12 million tons of plastics entering our ocean every year on top of the estimated 165 million tons already in our marine environment.
So where does our waste really go?
Some of it ends up in landfills where it can take up to 500 years to decompose whilst potentially leaking pollutants into the soil and water, some of it gets recycled locally but most is sent off-shore. In the UK alone two-thirds of all plastic is sent abroad with countries like the US sending more than 10 million metric tons of plastic waste off-shore over the past three decades.
Up until the 2017 ban from China, more than half of the worlds plastic waste was sent their for disposal. The ban sent first world countries scrambling to find alternatives, with their own waste disposal infrastructure unable to cater to the level of domestic waste they produced. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam & the Philippines have taken a lot of this trash but the reality is their own infrastructure is insufficient, with limited waste factories, rubbish is ending up on their landscape and in the ocean.
It has been estimated that 90 percent of all the plastic that reaches the world's oceans gets flushed through just 10 rivers: The Yangtze, the Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, Pearl River, Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong (in that order). All of these rivers are high density areas where hundreds of millions of people live, but what's more important is that these places don't have adequate waste collection or recycling infrastructure.
So what’s the answer?
The answer lies in increasing recycling efforts and resources within each country, reducing and then managing waste more effectively through a circular economy. Turning waste into a resource is key to a circular economy, with the objective being to stimulate innovation through recycling, upcycling and regeneration of materials.
Is this realistic?
There are companies across the globe who have already embraced this way of operating, proving that not only can you be a sustainable business but you can thrive.
Elvis & Kresse based in the UK are a shining example of this. Elvis & Kresse was set up in 2005 by Kresse Wesling and James 'Elvis' Henrit to help solve the problem of material ending up in landfill.
They started with London’s decommissioned Fire-hoses. Upcycling the material, they were then ethically handmade by craftsmen into sustainable luxury leather bags and accessories.
Since 2010 none of UK’s decommissioned fire-hoses have gone to landfill. Having solved London’s fire-hose waste problem Elvis & Kresse took on an even larger problem; leather waste, of which 800,000 tons end up in landfill each year. In 2017 Kresse & James partnered with The Burberry Foundation to help tackle their leather waste. Since this partnership, Elvis & Kresse have saved over 200 tons of material going to landfill.
They also reclaim parachute silk, auction banners, and printing blankets and run their workshop on renewable energy. Kresse & James have been donating 50% of their profits to charity since they started.
Wolven is an eco-friendly active and leisurewear brand based in the US.
Founded by Kiran Jade and WIll Ryan, Wolven design and produce their collection from OEKO-TEX certified Recycled P.E.T fabric, a fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles. The fabric is created by breaking down existing plastic - the same kind clogging up landfills and polluting our oceans.
During the manufacturing period the materials become free of harmful and toxic chemicals. Wolven use carbon-neutral wood-pulp fibers that are sustainably harvested and woven & printed with natural dyes.
Kiran & James passion extends beyond the environment and into their community, with 5% of their profits donated to helping at risk youth.
And AURAI, a swimwear brand based in NZ has also been developed around the concept of a circular economy.
Founded by Italo-Brazilian designer Natalia Bertolo and inspired by her eco-design studies, Natalia works with a new generation of products and materials that have a more positive impact over the entire product cycle and slow fashion movement.
AURAI materials include ECONYL®, 100% regenerated nylon that is made from recovered fish nets, old carpets and other industrial components and AMNI SOUL ECO® which is a bio-degradable fiber made in Brazil. Traditionally, a polyamide fiber takes decades to disintegrate, the AMNI SOUL ECO® yarn biodegrades by 50% in just over one year, with an estimation that after 28 months, it will biodegrade 100%.
As with Elvis & Kresse & Wolven, AURAI are also a social enterprise working alongside 2 NGO’s, one aligned to the preservation of the ocean and the other supporting cancer rehabilitation. All of Natalia’s SS19 designs are masectomy-friendly.
For brands like these, it starts with their ethos and goes right through the design concept and production cycle, ending in the packaged product - all with sustainability and minimal waste in mind.
Why is this so important?
Improved design and manufacturing waste management reduces both health and environmental problems;
- Reduced dumping cuts emissions from landfill, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions
- avoids the deterioration of the landscape due to landfills
- reduces litter, ocean and air pollution
If we re-manufacture, reuse and recycle, and if one industry's waste becomes another's raw material, we can move to a more circular economy where waste is eliminated and resources are used in an efficient and sustainable way, leaving our planet and the species we share it with to thrive.
Photo by John Hult, Unsplash