With thousands of tons of recyclables being rejected by China, with contaminated recycling ending up in the garbage, and with several giant trash islands floating in our oceans, “it’s OK, we recycle” is no longer acceptable.
Recycling is the new garbage: we continue to create the same amount of waste, we just put it into a different receptacle and feel better.
One-way, single-use and non-compostable containers and packaging can no longer be a part of our lives. Recycling is not a panacea to garbage, and cannot be used to excuse the constant generation of more waste. It’s not acceptable to take an extra cup to put your teabag in (sorry, Westjet), even if it’s made of compostable GMO corn. It’s not OK to keep buying flats of single-serve yogurt – or worse, bottled water – when you can easily put that serving in a re-usable container for travel.
We have started to come to grips with part of this problem by phasing out the use of plastic shopping bags and plastic straws (slowly), but we still remain heavily addicted to our convenience at any price lifestyle.
Part of the problem is our mobility and the distance between our homes and our work. (Please note, I am writing this as a denizen of the First World, with its urban-focused culture and middle-class aspirations.) Work is located way too far for us to run home for lunch, and our culture prefers us to work through lunch anyway. Work is work, and is not supposed to provide the comforts of home, like kitchens to make lunch, or showers for cyclists). And since such amenities are not provided, we seek different solutions. Quick café lunches and take-out do away with the need to drag containers of food around, and the health department won’t let restaurants fill customer-supplied containers. And in our convenience lifestyle, no-one wants to drag around not just their water bottle but their lunch and then empty containers.
In a side note, physical distance has been exaggerated by cultural distance between work and “life”. As the collective water cooler and the lunch room have vanished from the workplace, so has our opportunity for community building in the workplace. Water cooler, locker room and lunch room have been replaced by eating take-out at your desk.
In our own industry, we straddle individualism and convenience on one side, and collective/sharing culture on the other. Pubs, tasting rooms and growlers all foster community building and waste reduction. Growlers come back to be refilled over and over again, and we can take home the sample cups from the farmers’ market, wash and re-use them. More and more breweries are taking responsibility also for their production waste, primarily by reducing water use.
On the other hand, society demands the single-serve bottle or can as the most convenient packaging. Cans can only be recycled, not re-used, and most bottles are the same. All of which costs a lot of energy. Cases, labels, boxes and caps all create vast amounts of waste after they are used, as well as in the production process. Bottling and canning lines can waste hundreds of litres of beer by short-filling containers or making imperfect seals. Labelling machines can ruin otherwise perfect runs in error, and of course anywhere there is glass there is breakage, and anywhere there is liquid there is ruined paper packaging
Even as they enhance our sense of individual freedom, single-serve drinks isolate us by reducing the need to share. At the same time, they reduce our awareness of overconsumption by normalising the waste. There is simply no thought about the waste created when you crack open a cold one.All of this convenience comes at a very high price indeed. Social isolation and ecological destruction are not trivial matters.
Instead of convenience, we need to focus on the other “C” which comes before the three Rs: Community. Instead of drinking by yourself, go to the pub and make friends. Instead of putting your personal, individual convenience first, consider the community. Think of the ocean community currently dying from our garbage. Consider the people living downstream from the landfill and therefore being on a constant boil-water advisory. Consider the community you could build by sharing your home-made sandwiches at work instead of having lonely take-out at your desk.
Turn your individual commitment to reduce waste into participation in your community. Instead of dropping your recycling at the depot to disappear into the waste stream, get together with others for a “fix it” session for appliances and tools, for example.
Along with community, work on the first R: reduce. Stop buying things in tiny containers. Just stop – bring your own containers for bulk food or take-out, put your yogurt into your own reusable container. Reduce your energy and water use: shorter showers, use the sun to dry your laundry.
Then look at what remains in your waste stream: can you find an alternative, or can you use that thing again? Re-use, upcycle, get creative!
But first, be aware every day, all the time, that what you do matters. Be willing to inconvenience yourself to be part of the community and take responsibility for your actions and their results.
What we do matters.
Recycling is still wasteful.
What we do at Crannóg Ales to reduce waste:
Use less water (re-use all process water, greywater used for irrigation)
Use less power (triple insulation on coolers, grow natural shade to cool buildings)
Use recycled materials - all paper is post-consumer recycled.
Steel kegs can be re-used hundreds of times (probably more), and so can keg caps. The only single use part of a keg is the paper keg tag.
Growlers can be cleaned and re-used, we have a growler cleaner as well as a filler, and we accept other breweries' growlers too! We now have both 1L and 2L growlers available. The only single-use part of a growler is the cap, which can be recycled.
Plus of course our integration with Left Fields farm cooperative, allowing us to reduce the distance between field and glass, and to re-use brewery by-products as feed and compost feedstock to build the farm.
And there's the tiny things: we strongly encourage re-usable cups for all our staff, we wash and re-use tasting glasses, and we recycle all our office waste and grain bags.
The most important thing, though, is to make our personal decisions political. We bring these issues to the public eye, and work to make industry more accountable for the waste stream - moving the problem upstream to the source instead of simply blaming the consumer.