Rubbish - who is responsible for making it and reducing it?

5 November 2016

Many zero wasters keep their rubbish in a container like a jar. It's technically a bin and from the outside a weird concept. Someone described rubbish jars as a kind of waste taxidermy. Of course, living zero waste does not require any rubbish to be housed in a glass jar. Or kept in the home at all. I simply started to keep mine because it helped me track what rubbish I was creating to make improvements and to better understand materials. It was an extension of the dilemma bag used in Plastic Free July. 

Recently I have been wondering if it’s really setting the best example. Is keeping all the waste in my jar asking for change? Sure, it shows that with thought and intention, the consumers rubbish can be reduced. But now I am not as convinced that hoarding every little but it of it, in a glass home, is the way forward.

I do wonder if the zero waste movement is taking too much responsibility for the rubbish we don’t want to create. No one living zero waste wants to create rubbish, and we are forever trying to avoid it. For instance, I have several straws in my jar that I specifically did not ask for…but now are my responsibility. Why is it my responsibility?

The first month of my pregnancy, I was very ill. I couldn't keep anything in my stomach. Including water. It’s kind of scary. No food was staying down, which meant no nutrients. So I did what probably most new Mum’s do, and followed the doctors’ orders to buy a pregnancy multivitamin. I chose the most well-known brand, Elevit. They come in blister packs, that are made of half plastic and half aluminum, packed in a cardboard box. There was probably another multivitamin in a recyclable jar, but I grabbed this brand because I knew of it and I also could not be bothered sussing out another brand. At that stage getting out of bed was difficult. Trawling the internet or pharmacy for a more sustainable option was the last thing I wanted to do. My only concern was my baby and finding a discreet place to be sick after I left the pharmacy.

The brand I chose is the most popular and trusted pregnancy multivitamin in Australia. I know that I should have picked one that has recyclable packaging. And I take full responsibility that I did not. As I mentioned, my stamina for making a sustainable decision was non existent, so I went with what I felt was best for my body and baby. 

Not too long after this, the doctor discovered my thyroid was not functioning properly and I needed to get onto a medication pronto. Again I followed the doctors’ orders, and took the medication. This time it was packaged in aluminum blister packs. No plastic. Everything can be recycled. I didn't even ask or look for a sustainable packaged option.

I began to wonder why Elevit didn’t do the same, or use glass and plastic bottles. Each fortnight, I began emptying a blister sheet of Elevit, placing it into my jar, the same thought of 'why don’t they' floating in my mind. Then I wondered if we should always have to compromise our decisions because of packaging, especially when it comes to health? Is that truly fair? Will that make the big companies take notice?

Stuffing this rubbish into my jar is not going to push for any change. Elevit has been good. I can’t fault it, other than the packaging. But holding onto it, is not enough. I can help make a change and my rubbish can do more than sit there. 

It's my responsibility to speak up if I want to see change.

So now I am saving up all the Elevit blister sheets, and I'll send them back to Elevit (Bayer) with a letter and suggestions on how they can provide better packaging. Because there are alternatives. They exist and they can make a change. It should not always be up to me.

Living zero waste is not just about making better choices for myself. It's demanding better choices for everyone. One of the most effective actions to reduce waste is asking for change at the source. There is not a low waste alternative to everything yet. But if I start speaking up, maybe one day there will be.  

I’m not just stopping at Elevit. In my jar are blister packs for Nurofen and Panadol. I know these can be housed in plastic bottles. I have seen it in the US and sometimes I see it here. Though now that option seems to be less available.  I have seen my own thyroid medication housed in aluminium, so why can’t they do the same? But then I have to think about how a blister pack is easier to use than a bottle for some people.

I have airline tickets in my rubbish jar. I can send them back, explaining the risk of BPA on the tickets and asking for another option like digital boarding passes. My old mascara tube, the broken sunglasses, plastic food stickers...I can identify sustainable solutions for each. So I am going to let the companies know. 

Imagine if we all started doing this? Having conversations that asked the producer to make smarter decisions rather than us zero wasters constantly avoiding items or stuffing it away into a jar. These companies might have never thought about sustainable options in the original design. They might not know about the zero waste movement. The responsibility of rubbish sits equally on the shoulders of both producer and consumer. I believe we are going to have to work together to make less rubbish, and for us zero wasters that just might entail speaking up. 

I'm doing my part by
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