Every single one of us is responsible for creating a sustainable future. As a community, we need to be proactive about making changes to help the environment. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you as an individual cannot make a difference. The more we talk about the issue of our deteriorating environment, the more pressure it puts on public figures for action to be taken. If you are passionate about an issue but don’t tell anyone about it or refrain from acting against it, what are you trying to achieve? If you want to make a difference, you need to start now.
Newcastle is a beautiful place, well-known for our beaches and nature reserves. We want to keep the native side of Newcastle intact. But there are a few things we need to do for that to happen. The simple message to take away from this is to reduce, reuse and recycle.
What exactly is recyclable, though? A Planet Ark study found that 48% of Australians are confused about what can and can’t be recycled. Something that often surprises people is that most takeaway coffee cups aren’t recyclable. They have a plastic lining, which may be biodegradable but sits in landfill for decades, not days, slowly deteriorating.
Newcastle City Council provides a helpful recycling guide on their website, titled ‘Waste & Recycling A-Z’. It lists alphabetically items people are often unsure about, and gives you information on how to dispose of them properly.
To reduce your waste, you need to be aware of what it is that fills your bins. Start taking mental notes of the rubbish you produce. Could you recycle that item you’re throwing away? Is there a reusable substitute you could use instead?
When I did this, I found soft plastics to be my main source of waste, in addition to food scraps. When I refer to ‘soft plastics’ I mean items such as the plastic bread is held in, plastic shopping bags, food wrappers – any plastic you can easily scrunch, meaning it can’t be recycled like the hard plastics.
I’m not asking you to produce zero waste; that is near impossible, although many are trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle. What I am asking from you is that you become a conscious consumer, and reduce the waste that you produce. How do you do this?
Here are some solutions you can try:
- Food waste: Stop buying and cooking more than you need. Start a compost for food scraps and start your own veggie garden.
- Power/electricity/water: Remember the whole ‘turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth’ thing that you were taught in school? Well, it’s still important. Be water-wise. Turn off the power when you can (Earth Hour should happen more than once a year).
- BYO reusable shopping bags
Say no to plastic bags. Take your own shopping bags (also try to use the paper mushroom bags when in supermarkets instead of the plastic bags provided).
- Reusable coffee cups/water bottles
As well as helping the environment, some shops offer a discount if you bring your own cup – bonus!
- Coles and Woolworths REDcycle Program
Recycle soft plastics (empty bread bags, frozen food bags, confectionery packets, plastic bags etc.) and they will be recycled into useful new products, such as sturdy outdoor furniture.
- Newcastle City Council Waste & Recycling A-Z Guide
As mentioned before, it’s a concise guide that will give you all the information you need in order to recycle properly and not contaminate waste.
Recycling plastic not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfill, it also reduces the need to use precious natural resources. You’re helping the environment, and helping future generations!
13-year-old Novocastrian Kiara sells handmade stainless-steel straws to encourage others to ditch single-use plastics. You may have seen her straws at the Olive Tree Markets or scattered in local shops. Inspired by her care and passion for the environment, I asked Kiara a few questions about her business, Sprocket and Steel, and other methods Kiara follows to help preserve the environment.
How and when did Sprocket and Steel begin?
I have always loved drinking from straws and I was washing plastic ones. Then I saw a documentary on the Plastic Island in the Pacific Ocean and all the animals that are dying from eating the plastic rubbish. I decided I wanted to make my own and not use plastic anymore.
I began making the straws almost two years ago now and to begin with I gave them away to family and friends to test them out.
What do you do to help the environment?
Besides making stainless-steel straws and encouraging people to politely refuse single-use plastic straws by having their own stainless-steel straw, I take part in the Merewether Beach Clean once a month and pick up rubbish that I see when I am at the beach, which is almost every day. I love the beach.
How can others make a difference?
I believe people are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment and are reducing their use of single-use plastic – this is exciting. They can also pick up the rubbish they see as they walk down the street, in their local park when they are walking their dog, or at the beach. Remember to take your reusable bag with you when you go shopping.
Where can people find your straws?
On the website, Facebook, at the Olive Tree Market, and at local shops like Scoop Wholefoods, Pickled & Pressed, The Bondwood travelling café and bar, Momo, Eco Earth Traders, Harmony Beans mobile coffee, The Bottlo at Wickham and Inner Origin online.
Any other environmentally friendly Newcastle initiatives/businesses that you support or that we should know about?
We love Merewether Beach Clean, Scoop Wholefoods at The Junction, Take 3 for the Sea.
Kiara’s story is so inspiring. A 13-year-old concerned about the environment and taking actions to help – what a dream! Hopefully this has made you think about your choices when it comes to the use of plastic and has made you aware of where that plastic ends up, and stays, for decades. Show your support to Kiara and other initiatives helping keep our beautiful city the way it is.