In the past few years there has been a rise in awareness and interest into where our products come from, how they’re made and how they impact the environment. It’s become easier to shop with a conscious. There’s zero-waste grocery stores, hundreds of small brands with eco-friendly ideals and even the big names have started the process to change their packaging to becoming more environmentally friendly and producing more green products.
When it comes to environmentally friendly products and packaging, most are split into 5 categories: zero waste, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and reusable. What does this mean and how does it affect your use (or discard) of them? Let us Explain…
Zero waste is defined as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
It’s a philosophy that encourages a lifestyle where as many products and materials as possible are reused instead of ending up in landfills. It involves the whole lifecycle of products – from design and manufacture to purchasing.
Zero waste grocery stores are a great example. They do away with all packaging, sell out of bulk bins and encourage shoppers to bring their own jars and containers to fill up.
Re-wear by Tshirts for Change is a great example of zero waste products. The Re-Wear range consists of t-shirts and puffer jackets made using post-consumer plastic recycled directly from landfill. They’re made locally impacting not only the environment but benefitting the local supply chain. Not only that but all their products are shipped using plastic free packaging to further bring down the environmental impact.
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Recyclable means a material can be recovered once thrown away, broken down and reused to make a new product. Recycling has a positive impact on the environment as it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and products made from recyclables require less energy, carbon and raw resources to produce than those made from new materials.
Recyclable materials include glass, paper, plastic, and metals. However, you need to check if that material is recyclable beforehand as not all plastics can be recycled. Some recycling depots also have rules as to what can and cannot be recycled ie. some will not take bottle caps, only bottles.
You can look for products that are sold in recyclable packaging. Some packaging says if it can be recycled, others use symbols. This guide helps you decipher common recycling symbols and what they mean. To recycle you need to either find a depot near you to drop of recyclable materials or if your neighbourhood doesn’t pick up recycling find a service you can sign up to that would come and collect.
You can also find products made from recycled material. A lot of brands have included lines that are made from recycled material like T-shirts For Change’s Re-Wear Tees, Adidas’ recycled collection, The Joinery who makes totes, tags and masks from plastic bottles and Vinostein who makes furniture from old wine barrels and off-cuts that would otherwise be tossed.
If something is biodegradable it means that given the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria, it will eventually break down to its basic components and blend back in with the earth. Ideally, but not always, these substances degrade without leaving any toxins behind.
Some things are naturally biodegradable, like food and plants, while other items can break down into harmful chemicals or gases. Things like food and paper will biodegrade fast, while others like plastic or steel can take years and may still leave micro plastics and other harmful material behind. As biodegradable products break down in soil, they shouldn’t be added to your recycling but rather to general household rubbish.
A lot of toiletries are made to be biodegradable like dental floss, Oh Lief baby wipes, Sheba feminine products and these cotton buds. You can also get cleaning products like the Better Earth range which are all biodegradable.
Some packaging is made to be biodegradable – however biodegradable plastics can take years to biodegrade and may not fully breakdown in landfills if they don’t have the right environment, so where you can rather choose compostable or recyclable packaging instead.
Like biodegradable products, compostable products can be broken down by living organisms such as bacteria. However, compostable products are often made from plant materials, like starch, rather than fossil fuels and break down into materials such as water, oxygen and compost. Compostable products are intended for a composting environment like the Yolo Compost bins and will break down within 90 days into a nutrient-rich organic material called humus, which creates a healthy soil environment for new plant growth.
Food scraps like fruit and veggie peels, tea bags and coffee grounds are great for composting. Look out for products that are packaged in compostable packaging like the Green Home range of disposable goods. If You Care’s range of kitchen goods like sandwich bags, bin liners and cling wrap are all compostable as are their muffin liners which are my absolute favourite. String Green also makes face and body sponges that are fully compostable.
Reusable products are created with the intention of replacing a single use item (often made from plastic) and replacing it with an eco-friendly product that does the same job but can be reused over and over again.
Shopping bags are the easiest example. Most grocery stores sell reusable bags to hold your groceries. This was the first single use plastic item I replaced and for me, the easiest one to start with. I keep a pile of reusable shoppers in the boot so I always have them when going to the shops and now never forget them behind. Mine have lasted about 2 years of weekly use before breaking, which is far better than buying plastic bags each time you shop. Other favorite reusable items are these stasher bags which replace ziplocks, this humble and mash silicone mat which replaces baking paper, these daily peach face pads which eliminate the need for cotton pads, an eco-friendly travel mug, Restraw glass straws and travel cutlery.
It’s not always necessary to buy things specifically marketed for reuse – you can reuse what you have. For example, I reuse my favourite jam jar to store baking powder, baking soda, nutritional yeast and seeds in. Coffee and condiment jars can easily be reused as well. Soak the bottles in hot soapy water to remove the labels, wash well and you have glass jars to store grains, nuts, seeds, granola and porridge mix.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.