LET'S BECOME ZERO-WASTE TOGETHER!
WHY DO WE NEED TO WORRY ABOUT WASTE?
Most waste (plastic, batteries, electronics, paints and so on) contain toxic substances. That is why unsafe waste disposal let pollutants penetrate soils and run into groundwater – the very water we drink directly from our wells. Since the 1950s, over 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, of which only 9% has been recycled.
These land-produced plastics are dispersed by wind and travel through rivers, usually ending up in the oceans where they can form giant garbage islands. Overall, waste (and plastic in particular) decimates land and marine wildlife. They can even end up on our plates through the meat and fish we eat.
THIS SITUATION IS ALREADY DRAMATIC AS IT IS, BUT IT ACTUALLY IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG. ALTHOUGH MOST PEOPLE PAY ATTENTION TO THE PROBLEM ONLY WHEN THE ENVIRONMENT GETS LITTERED, MOST WASTE – AND PLASTIC IN PARTICULAR – HAVE A WHOLE LIFE-CYCLE THAT HAS TERRIBLE IMPACTS ON BOTH NATURE AND A LOT OF PEOPLE.
If you want to hear the whole story of plastic, have a look at this short video.
"The Story of Plastic", by The Story of Stuff Project (www.storyofstuff.org)
Actually, if you want to really understand the problem we are talking about, you should also watch this very interesting video.
"The Story of Stuff", by The Story of Stuff Project (www.storyofstuff.org)
IN ORDER TO REALLY TACKLE THE PLASTIC CRISIS AND THE ENTIRE WASTE ISSUE, IT IS ESSENTIAL TO UNDERSTAND AND KEEP IN MIND THE BIG PICTURE. IN A NUTSHELL, OUR CURRENT CONSUMPTION-BASED WAY OF LIFE IS SIMPLY UNSUSTAINABLE: BECAUSE OF SINGLE-USE PACKAGING AND DISPOSABLE ITEMS, WE PRODUCE A LOT OF POLLUTION AND WAY TOO MUCH TRASH, SO THERE IS SIMPLY NO WAY WE CAN MANAGE WASTE PROPERLY.
WHAT ABOUT RECYCLING?
IN MANY WAYS, RECYCLING IS A GREAT THING. THEORETICALLY, RECYCLING PROCESSES CAN HELP TURN SOME OF OUR WASTE INTO NEW ITEMS. HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES:
Recycled plastic can be used to make new bottles, packaging, clothes or many other items. For instance, it takes only 27 plastic bottles to produce a fleece. Anyhow, recycling 1,000 kg of plastic saves 700 kg of crude oil.
Paper and carton are easily recycled into new paper, toilet paper, egg boxes, etc. With 1,000 kg of paper waste, we can produce 900 kg of recycled paper, which would have needed about 17 trees otherwise.
Metal can be indefinitely recycled to produce all kinds of metallic objects. 190 000 aluminium cans are required to build a car, but only 670 are necessary to produce a mountain bike.
Textile waste is recycled to make new clothes. Here in Mongolia, we could easily turn old and damaged clothes into useful winter covers for baby animals.
Glass is used to produce new containers (bottles, jars, etc.) but it has also useful applications in construction (concrete, backfill, etc.). In Earthship houses, glass bottles are even used as bricks.
Organic waste like vegetable peels, tea leaves or eggshells can be composted to make an excellent natural fertilizer that farmers need.
Electronics, wood debris, car tires... To some extend, almost every type of waste can be recycled somehow. Even our wood stove ash can be very useful: in agriculture, it can be used as a fertilizer or a bug repellant; in the house, it can be turned into soap to wash clothes or dishes.
SO, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
THE PROBLEM IS THAT RECYCLING IS NOT A MAGICAL SOLUTION. DESPITE ITS EXTREMELY POSITIVE PERCEPTION AND THE FACT THAT IT CAN INDEED BE VERY USEFUL IN SOME CASES, IT ALSO COMES WITH A LOT OF LIMITS AND ISSUES THAT CANNOT BE OVERCOME - AMONG WHICH:
Many types plastics used by goods producers are actually not recyclable;
Many products and packaging designs make actual recycling impossible;
Lots of additives and impurities inside materials significantly reduce their actual recyclability;
Recycling also degrades most materials, especially plastics: matter is lost in the process and items are usually “downcycled” into a lower quality product (most often, plastics are recycled only once before they become final unrecyclable waste to be dumped or incinerated);
Recycling requires a very precise level of sorting, which demands expensive technology and/or exploitation of poor people’s workforce;
Recycling has its own impacts on the environment, especially in terms of water and energy consumption, as well as waste water production and CO2 emissions;
The theoretical possibility of recycling tends to make people over-consume instead of trying to reduce their waste production.
THESE FUNDAMENTAL LIMITS MAKE INFINITE 100% RECYCLING A MYTH AND EXPLAIN THAT ONLY A SMALL FRACTION OF WASTE IS RECYCLED: GLOBALLY, 32% OF PLASTIC PACKAGING ENDS UP LITTERING THE ENVIRONMENT, 40% IS BURIED IN A DUMPSITE, 14% IS INCINERATED, 12% IS DOWNCYCLED… AND ONLY 2% IS EFFECTIVELY RECYCLED (INTO AN ITEM AS USEFUL AS IT WAS BEFORE - BUT, HERE AGAIN, OFTEN FOR A SINGLE CYCLE).
Infographics from "The Story of Plastic"
The infinite recycling myth also keeps us thinking that, ultimately, we will not need to extract natural resources anymore. But this is also totally untrue, especially if idealization of recycling keeps us from reducing our consumption.
Although recycling slowly progresses, extraction of natural resources increases much faster, and plastic production currently knows a double-digit growth. Between 2005 and 2015, yearly global plastic production increased by 45%: how could recycling ever follow that pace?
If the recycling approach is not linked with a drastic decrease in plastic production (in line with a significant change in our consumption practices), recycling is doomed to remain a negligible process totally incapable of managing the waste we produce.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO, THEN?
Does that mean we should not sort and recycle our waste? Of course not: we definitely need to sort and recycle! But there are even more important things to consider first. Our motto should not be to “make our waste resources” but to “not make our resources waste”!
THE MOST ESSENTIAL THING TO DO IS THUS TO REDUCE WASTE PRODUCTION IN THE FIRST PLACE. BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, WE NEED TO BAN ALL TYPES OF DISPOSABLE PRODUCTS (BOTH SINGLE-USE AND SHORT LIFESPAN ITEMS). INCIDENTALLY, THAT MEANS CALLING INDUSTRIES TO CHANGE THEIR PRACTICES AND RESPECT THEIR "SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY" OBLIGATIONS.
Do you know that households actually produce less than 10% of all waste, while industries produce most of the rest? Another way to put it: for one container of waste you produce at home, at least 70 more containers of waste were produced beforehand by the industries from which you bought our products. Even if households sorted their waste perfectly, we would still have a big problem, so industries need to improve their processes and reduce their waste production in the first place.
Then, when it comes to marketing, we should also force industries to systematically switch to reusable packaging and to organize a take-back system to avoid all single-use packaging. When reusing is impossible, they should use only effective recyclable material and designs. As much as possible, packaging should be standardized by types of product so that reusing and recycling is made easier for all stakeholders. Marketing issues should always come after environment protection!
Companies should also stop misleading their consumers with false uses of the word "recyclable": when there is no specific recycling process actually operational in our country for a specific material, we cannot seriously consider it to be "recyclable" as it always ends up in dumpsites anyways! Transparent and honest information is paramount for people to adapt their consumers choices towards more sustainability...
Infographics from "The Story of Stuff"
THEN, WHEN IT COMES TO YOU, IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO BE RESPONSIBLE AND MAKE THE RIGHT MOVES. THE BEST KIND OF WASTE IS THE ONE THAT DOES NOT EXIST! IN OTHER WORDS, THE BEST IS TO FOLLOW THE 3R RULE: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.
1. REDUCE: First of all, try to reduce the amount of waste you produce by reducing your consumption of waste generating items. It requires refusing objects that are not necessary in the first place and buy or accept only products that are consistent with sustainable lifestyles and respect environmental and ethical standards.
2. REUSE: The second step is to make sure that the items you do get, as well as their packaging, are reusable. You should replace disposable single-use objects such as plastic bags, bottles and cups in particular by reusable ones. You should also try to repurpose and repair broken objects instead of throwing them away and replacing them by new ones.
3. RECYCLE: Finally, if the first 2 steps are not possible and you really have to get rid of an item, the third step of the 3R rule insists on making sure it finds its way into the recycling process (instead of throwing it in the dumpsite as an ultimate waste). In other words, you need to sort your waste. (Composting organic waste or giving it as food for animals is also good way of recycling.)
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIMITS OF RECYCLING AND THE WAY TOWARDS ZERO WASTE, YOU CAN HAVE A LOOK AT OUR DEDICATED SUMMARY REPORT BELOW.
NOW, LET'S GET BACK TO WASTE SORTING
IF YOU WANT TO RECYCLE YOUR WASTE, YOU NEED TO SORT WELL. AND IF YOU WANT TO SORT WELL, YOU'D BETTER KNOW WHAT'S IN YOUR WASTE.
According to our studies, household waste in Khishig-Undur is mainly made of ash, glass, plastic, food and… baby diapers (if you have a baby!).
Together, these five types of waste represent almost 90% of your waste.
Other types of waste, which are found in smaller amount, mainly include paper, fabric, metal, Tetra Pack, electronic waste and batteries.
Overall, an average household in Khishig-Undur produces 5.8 kg of waste each week. It means one family produces on average more than 300 kg of waste per year!
THEN, FOR RECYCLING TO BE POSSIBLE, WASTE SORTING NEEDS TO BE CARRIED OUT RESPECTING SOME SIMPLE BUT IMPORTANT RULES.
If different wastes are mixed together, it becomes very difficult to separated and recycle them, especially if they are soiled by dirty or dangerous substances. That is why it is particularly important to sort each type of material at source, before it even begins being "waste".
Sorting is actually extremely easy! It just requires to slightly adapt our usual behaviour by using several trash bins or bags instead of one. You'll see that once you start, it becomes an interesting, challenging game!
We designed the following rules specifically for Khishig-Undur soum, in line with our own waste management system. But you can easily adapt and follow them wherever you live!
WE CAN DIVIDE ALL HOUSEHOLD WASTE INTO FOUR CATEGORIES, WHICH WILL BE PROCESSED SEPERATELY:
Recyclables should go into a dedicated sorting bin: glass, plastic, paper, fabric, Tetra Pack, metal, e-waste and batteries…
Ash, which should go in a dedicated heat-resistant metal container, for safety reasons, and also because it can be used for other purposes.
Food waste, both vegetable and animal, should go in one or two dedicated buckets so it can be composted or fed to dogs and livestock.
Ultimate non-recyclable waste, which go in a separate trash bin. If you sort your waste well, there shouldn’t be too much in this bin!
4 MAIN RULES FOR THIS SORTING BIN
1. USE AN INTERMEDIARY COLLECTION BOX INSIDE YOUR HOME
This is more an advice than a rule: keep all your recyclables together in a big carton box or container inside your home and separate them by categories in the sorting bin outside only when it’s full. This way waste sorting becomes very easy in your everyday life!
2. ADAPT THE BIN TO YOUR NEEDS
A useful waste sorting bin needs to be adapted to its user. That is why we made this bin adjustable: you can use as many sorting bags as you want and you can hang them however you consider the best for you, depending on your own waste production. The only important thing is to sort your recyclables according to the main categories as described below.
3. KEEP YOUR RECYCLABLES CLEAN!
This rule mainly applies to food and drink containers but it is the most essential one: keep the recyclables you sort here relatively clean. You don’t need to wash them with soap, but if they are dirty you should quickly rinse them before you put them in the sorting bin. Otherwise, all the other recyclables will get dirty and it will be almost impossible for them to be properly recycled.
4. EMPTY THE SORTING BIN AT DEDICATED LOCATION IN THE SOUM
When the bags of your sorting bins are full, you can simply take them and empty them at the dedicated location indicated by Ecosoum and/or local administration.
BAG FOR HARD PLASTIC
PLASTIC BOTTLES AND CONTAINERS
In this bag, you can put hard plastic bottles, containers and other items. For example, it can include water, soda, beer, ketchup, shampoo or detergent bottles, as well as yogurt and other food containers, jerricans, and finally all kinds of broken hard-plastic items.
BAG FOR SOFT PLASTIC
PLASTIC BAGS AND WRAPPING
In this bag, you can put all your plastic bags and wrapping. It can include grocery bags but also others types of plastic packaging such as bread, noodles or any other food plastic wrapping. Just remember that everything needs to be clean otherwise it’s impossible to recycle correctly! So, if a plastic is really too dirty, it’s better you make an exception and put it in the ultimate waste bin this time.
BAG FOR GLASS
GLASS BOTTLES AND CONTAINERS
In this bag, you can put all your glass items. It should mainly include vodka and other glass bottles, as well as food jars (of pickles, compote, jam and so on). Please make sure they are empty and clean when you put them into the bag. You don’t need to wash them completely, but a quick rinse would be necessary for recycling.
BAG FOR PAPER AND FABRIC
PAPER, CARTON, TETRAPACK AND FABRIC
In this bag, you can put all your papers and cartons if you don’t use them or burn for fire. Even though they are not recycled together, you can also put your Tetra Packs and your fabric waste here. We will easily separate them afterwards.
BAG FOR METAL
CANS AND OTHER METAL ITEMS
In this bag, you can put all kinds of metal. From your home, it mainly means aluminum cans from drinks and steel cans from canned food. But any other broken metal item can be put in this bag for recycling. Metal can be recycled virtually forever so it would be a pity if it ended its life at a dumpsite…
BAG FOR ELECTRONIC WASTE
E-WASTE AND BATTERIES
In this bag, you can put all your broken electronic devices. Not all of them can be recycled, but usually some parts can be useful to repair other broken electronic items. Batteries contain substances that are extremely polluting to the environment, thus, it is essential to sort them properly so they don’t end up at a dumpsite.
BUCKETS FOR FOOD WASTE
VEGETABLE AND ANIMAL WASTE
The least you should do is to separate all food waste from other recyclables, because organic waste would spoil the other recyclables and make them harder to be recycled, and also because organic waste has its own processing channel. We even try to divide into 2 different buckets:
Vegetable peels and other vegetal waste can be either given to livestock (your own or another family’s) or composted in your khashaa.
Animal waste such as bones, fat and meat leftover can be given to dogs (your own or another family’s). If you don’t have too much, you can put it the compost with vegetables but it is not recommended because it may induce a bad smell and attract pest.
METAL CONTAINER FOR ASH
WOOD OR COAL ASH FROM STOVE
Ash from stove should be placed separately in a separate metal container. The main reason is safety: if hot ash is put in contact with inflammable materials, it could lead to a disastrous fire… The other reason is that, like other recyclable waste, ash can also be a valuable resource, especially wood ash.
TRASH BIN FOR ULTIMATE WASTE
ALL OTHER NON-RECYCLABLE WASTE
If you sort your waste properly, the amount of ultimate waste will be extremely limited. But even if you try your best to become a zero-waste household, you will still produce some ultimate waste. Thus, you will need a specific bin for it, but you can try to keep it as small as possible!
This spring, we will build a brand new waste management facility where citizens, businesses and public institutions of Khishig-Undur will bring their sorted waste. We will recycle locally whatever we can and sell another part to urban recyclers. As for the remaining "ultimate waste", we will advocate for people and industries to change their habits so we can progressively make it disappear!
THIS WAY, WE WILL TEND TOWARDS BECOMING THE FIRST ZERO-WASTE SOUM IN MONGOLIA AND IMPLEMENT A MUCH MORE CIRCULAR ECONOMY.
Infographics from "The Story of Plastic"