Growing up, I remember faulty appliances being fixed by either my grandad or at a local repair shop - where a man with a never-ending array of tools would get the job done. We bought when we needed, not when we wanted. We wasted nothing. And I'm not talking about the middle of the 20th Century; I grew up in the late 90's.
We are at a point now where the waste we are producing is not only inhibiting the Earth's ability to support life, but also affecting the activities we undertake in our everyday lives. For the sake of the planet, and our pockets, it's time for us millennials to call time on our disposable practices and look at how waste could play a part in building an entirely new economy.
As a 23-year-old environmental scientist-in-training, the two questions that plague me are: Why are we so wasteful? And were we always like this? We now have a culture of buying when we want, not when we need. We're fascinated with having the latest phone, games console and clothes, even though our homes are full of phones in drawers, old consoles collecting dust and perfectly good clothes in wardrobes.
How did we become so wasteful?
We live in a take-make-dispose world; one where we extract from our environment, produce and use goods, and then dispose of them:
(Ecova Inc, 2015)
This model is used in every aspect of our lives, from the food that we eat and the clothes on our backs, to the mobile phones in our pockets and the laptops at our fingertips. It is easier and cheaper to buy new than it is to repair, this - coupled with devices designed to last only a few years - has resulted in this culture of waste.
But why? There are many reasons, but our ability to extract resources and produce on such a vast scale is undoubtedly a major contributor, and so are we.
So where do we go from here?
Do you remember your grandparents saying, 'There's brass in muck!'? I do - a lot - but now I understand what they mean, and I believe this to be truer than ever.
Take mobile phones; a study by Nokia revealed that approximately 44% of our old mobile phones are knocking about in our homes collecting dust. They calculated that if one mobile phone from each of the three billion owners was recycled, it would save 240,000 tonnes of materials from being extracted, and would equate to taking four million cars off the road. All of that from returning one mobile phone each.
It's not just beneficial for the environment either, an entirely new market can be created around the sourcing and reprocessing of materials for the existing manufacturing process. It has been estimated that if the EU were to enter into such a system, the total savings in materials costs could be around $630 billion by 2025, and 1.2 to 3 million jobs could be created by 2030 within a European circular economy.
What can we do now?
A lot! We can reduce the amount of waste we put into the waste stream. And you'll be surprised at how much of a difference you can make by making tiny changes to your daily routine.
I'm a big coffee drinker, I love the stuff, but I never have the time to sit in and enjoy it, so I always take it away. This amounts to around 300 cups and lids a year; so to avoid this I use a reusable cup, without fail.
The same goes for packaged vegetables, go for the fresh unpackaged stuff. You'll save yourself money and you'll save a significant amount of plastic from entering the waste stream too.
I could go on, because the possibilities are endless, but the point is, we can make a difference. So have a think, look into your consumption habits, and do your best for our environmental and economic future!