This week as part of the “Smarter Living Sessions” organised by Whitehorse and Manningham Councils here in Victoria, I had the opportunity to attend an event called “War and Waste” presented by Craig Reucassel.
Craig is an Australian writer and comedian and hosted the ABC TV Series “War on Waste” aired last year here in Australia. This program highlighted massive environmental issues caused by plastic, food waste, fast fashion, coffee cups and others.
The session was interesting and they presented some useful information, so today I’ve decided to share a summary from the event.
A bit about the War on Waste series
For those of you who are not familiar with the TV program, War on Waste has been very successful in raising awareness about waste here in Australia and I love the fact that it has reached not only people like us (interested in these topics), but also people who were not at all conscious of these issues.
I remember the day after the first episode was aired on ABC I heard a couple of people at work talking about the program and how they were shocked by all the facts that Craig presented. That day I was the one surprised because I know these people are not particularly interested in this subject, but the program was interesting enough to catch their attention.
After the first 3 episodes were released, I even started hearing some people talking about the “War on Waste effect”. Some War on Waste Facebook Groups started to emerge as a way to support each other and do something about it. Even the company “KeepCup” was overwhelmed with an increase of 400% in sales after the coffee cup episode. It has been a real movement and it has inspired change in many people across the country.
I personally love this program and I think part of their success has to do with Craig. Using his sense of humour, he delivers the information in a way that’s honest and real, and I think that attracts people’s attention. In many cases with a smile and a clever/funny comment he confronts leaders and convey an important message for the environment.
The event had two parts: Craig’s presentation (focused mainly on Food Waste and Recycling) followed by a Q&A session with Craig and some council members. The room was big and quite packed (the event was free and it was sold-out) and you could tell most of the people in the audience were the type of individuals doing their bit for the environment.
This is a summary of some of the information shared during the session (I am sure I am missing a lot but this is based on some notes I took). Of course I cannot capture here the amusing part because Craig is quite funny and we had some good laughs during the session, but bear with me.
- Craig mentioned that one of the hardest part of filming the program was the time he went to the Banana Farm in Queensland and learnt about the amount of waste that happens in those processes due to supermarkets specifications. All that time and effort invested in growing those bananas wasted, it doesn’t make sense. It seems after the program was aired other farmers were not very happy about the fact that this lady decided to speak up and tell the truth of what’s going on. Supermarkets keep blaming us, consumers.
- Australians discard up to 20% of the food they buy, that’s 1 out 5 shopping bags.
- Food waste in landfill generates methane. If food waste was a country it’d be the 3rd global greenhouse gas emitter after China and USA
- Composting is a great solution for many people, but the percentage of people actually doing is too small, so Craig’s view is that councils need to start receiving food scraps as part of their green collection services. Some councils are getting on board but he said that sometimes councils don’t do it due to lack of support and push-back from certain groups of people.
- In his experience on War on Waste he found there is a big knowledge gap about what’s really recycled, where it goes, what happens afterwards etc. Even councils sometimes don’t know because they send it to the companies doing the job without knowing a lot of the processes.
- About the Australia recycling crisis after China Ban, he mentioned the actual percentage the country was sending was small and surprisingly is not so much plastic but other materials like paper, but now it is time to deal with our waste.
- It is about reducing and reusing first, not relying on recycling as a final solution.
- He joked about how crazy it is that the plastic number symbol is so similar to the recycling symbol, so many people see it and immediately assumes it is recyclable which is not necessarily the case.
- The recycling process can be very confusing. For instance black meat trays are often not recycled but other types of meat trays can be recycled.
- He explained the “Australasian Recycling Label” (this was new to me) which reduces the confusion and it helps us make the right choices. In the image below, the first symbol on the left-hand side means is recyclable, the second one is Conditionally Recyclable and you have to check with your council and the last one is not recyclable. Learn more here.
- Craig highlighted the fact that these initiatives are great but the problem in Australia is that most of these things are optional, so companies don’t have to adhere to these standards if they don’t want to. There is a lack of regulations.”No worries, it’s Australia, she’ll be right” he joked about it.
- Plastic bottles should be made with at least a percentage of recycled plastic, in the market today only a couple are made with recycled material. And there is no law that forces companies to indicate that in the bottle.
From the Q&A
This part of the presentation was long and there were so many topics discussed. I am only including few comments from Craig:
- We go through so much plastic. Try to avoid plastic as much as possible, reduce.
- About reusable straws provided in restaurants, Craig joked that one of the excuses he was hearing all the time from men was around women and lipstick.
- At the moment, Redcycle is not expanding their collection points beyond the supermarkets because since War on Waste they have received way too much soft plastic.
- Reusable coffee cups are only more environmentally friendly if they are used at least 20 times. He mentioned his colleague who keeps losing them and buying new ones!
- Older generations knew little about the environment but there was a sense of scarcity (I am not sure if this was the exact word he used but something similar I think) so they wasted less, reused stuff, ate all the food etc. New generations know more about the environment but they grew up in the age of abundance, so they tend to waste more.
- Don’t get angry when people don’t understand you are trying to reduce waste and don’t collaborate (e.g. allowing you to use your own container). They are not at that level yet, talk to them and take them through the journey, otherwise they might go in the opposite direction (I loved this one, excellent reminder)
- This company accepts shoes regardless of the condition (according to a lady that works there and spoke up during the session) to be reused or recycled. I was so glad to hear about this, I have been looking into options to recycle old unwearable shoes for quite some time. I also checked the website and it seems they accept torn and worn materials which don’t meet the quality standards to be resold in op shops. Link SCR Group
- Use Planet Ark – Recycling Near You website to find out where you can recycle different materials in Australia. Link
That’s it. I enjoyed the session, thanks to these two councils for organising the event and Craig Reucassel for sharing all the anecdotes and information, if you want to follow him on Twitter his account is @craigreucassel. I hope you have found some useful tips in this mini summary. Please tell me in the comments below: Did you learn something new from the session? What was it and how you are planning to use it?
These are my social media accounts for more tips about Green Living.
Thanks for reading,