If you are a follower of Planet Ark, you will be familiar with the sage advice offered in our by-weekly 'Everyday Enviro with Elise' column. In it, our contributing writer Elise Catterall explores the daily struggle of life as an eco-warrior and shares expert recycling tips. This year she has written about everything from cork to mindful online shopping.
We can't thank Elise enough for taking the time to investigate the impacts of our daily habits, answer our burning environmental questions and provide us with simple tips and tools to reduce our impact. So, without further ado, we present: the 'Everyday Enviro' highlights reel for 2021.
1. Exploring reuse options for those little sachets that come with everything
If you have been doing any online shopping during lockdown, you are likely to have accumulated quite the stash of silica gel sachets. After all, they are pretty much ubiquitous in packaged goods, whether it be new shoes, electronics or medications and supplements. After several years, I have quite the collection and have never really been sure of the best thing to do with them. So, I decided to investigate.
Silica sachets can't be recycled but you can:
Store them with your photos and photo albums to avoid damage.
Keep a jar of them in your wardrobe to avoid mould developing on shoes and clothes.
Scatter them in your pantry to help extend the life of your packaged foods.
Stash them in your gym bag to keep it daisy fresh.
Or if you are a gardener, keep them with your seeds to prevent rot.
2. Crazy about cork
For a long time, I was under the misapprehension that cork was increasingly being replaced in wine bottles because it was either unsustainable or endangered. Turns out, I was totally wrong about both. Cork is far from being endangered and is incredibly eco-friendly — it's actually one of the most sustainable materials in the world.
The main reason cork is so eco-friendly is because it is harvested by peeling the bark away from cork oak trees (Quercus robur) without harming them. These trees are first harvested at 25-years-old and can then be harvested again every 9-12 years. The trees live for up to 300 years meaning each can be safely harvested more than 16 times.
3. How to recycle blister packs
Blister packs for medicines are a common product of hospitals, pharmacies and health food stores as they provide unit-dose packaging, tamper protection and improved shelf life for medicines and supplements. Blister packs include the push through type you are probably used to seeing for painkillers etc., but also the more substantial Webster-paks which aren’t push through.
This packaging is mixed material so it can’t go in your kerbside recycling, and it isn’t suitable for REDCycle, so up until recently it was destined for landfill. Happily, TerraCycle has come to the rescue, just as they have before for so many other landfill-bound items like toothpaste tubes and contact lens containers.
TerraCycle and Chemists' Own have partnered to trial a free recycling program for all over-the-counter blister packs at select store locations. You can view the full list of participating stores here.
4. Mindful online shopping
I recently read about a report on the US retail market that stated that the pandemic has hastened the move away from physical 'brick and mortar' stores by around 5 years. I couldn't find exactly the same data for Australia, but I imagine in many places, it would be a comparable scenario. This has a bunch of downsides, but a major one is the environmental impact of online shopping.
Online shopping is that does two things with environmental consequences: 1) it encourages smaller more frequent purchases and 2) it can encourage overconsumption.
Does this mean you should stop online shopping completely? No. This is all just to say, like everything, be mindful. If you need it, you need it, but remember to:
Shop consciously and ethically.
Shop locally if you can.
Favour smaller, independent retailers over the big ecommerce sites.
Choose 'click and collect' rather than delivery.
And as soon as we can, let's get back to supporting our local, physical shops.
5. The gold in your old X-rays
You probably know that X-rays and other medical films can't be recycled in your kerbside recycling, but they can, and should, be recycled. Before we look at the how, let's look at the why. The main reason for recycling X-rays is to salvage the silver. Silver is used for so much more than jewellery, it is a critical component of a range of technologies, especially medical and electrical. And because of the demand for it, it is still regularly sourced through mining.
Your first recycling option is to just return your films to your radiologist. It's pretty standard practice for them to accept any films – whether they did the imaging or not. They just ask that you remove any paperwork before you hand them over. Your next option is to check out Planet Ark's Recycling Near You directory. You just pop in your postcode and then select X-ray films from the list of materials and you'll find a list of drop off points close to you — locations range from recycling centres to scout halls.
6. Batteries not included
I think you would be hard pressed to find a household that doesn't have a little stash of AA or AAA batteries tucked into a drawer. As present-giving season approaches, more battery purchases are likely, so what better time to have a chat about the different types of household batteries that are on the market and which might be better for the environment.
It seems, through life-cycle assessment done by some of the leading and more expensive brands, that, when it comes to single use batteries, you do get what you pay for. A higher price tag equates to higher capacity, longer use per battery, corrosion protection and 'power locking' technology that can see a battery hold its power for up to 10 years.
Rechargeable batteries are more expensive, there is no doubt, but they are worth the investment. Top of the line products, especially lithium ion, provide more power — a higher current output — making them suitable for most types of devices. And they can be recharged hundreds of times.
Thank you for following 'Everyday Enviro with Elise' this year — stay tuned for more simple sustainability tips coming your way in 2022!