Waste reduction: a real social issue

26/11/19

Since 2007 in Europe, we have been producing 4.6% less waste per year,per inhabitant, thanks to a growing awareness of the impacts of prevention, reuse, and reparation. In order to limit our impact on the ocean and preserve its natural resources, we must work quickly to convert these individual conscious behaviors into societal norms which actors at all levels adopt and foster. 

Banish plastic? 

Unavoidable in our daily lives, in all its forms (packaging, containers, utensils...), plastic is now over-consumed and cannot be recycled in its entirety (for example, it is estimated that only 10% of plastic ever created has been recycled). Although recycling reduces the use of additional natural resources and energy, as well as securing the supply of raw materials to industry and reducing its environmental impacts during production, it is not, however, a sustainable response and, once littered in the ocean, recycled plastic is no more environmentally friendly than virgin plastic. We also face a lack of capacity in Europe to treat the waste produced. In 2019, no less than 150,000 tonnes of waste produced on European soil was shipped abroad, mainly to countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. 

There is a twofold problem present. On the one hand, sending our waste to poorer countries only transfers the problem to others and raises ethical questions. Whereas, on the other hand, if all recipients follow China's example and start to refuse waste from Europe, the continent will find itself overwhelmed by its own waste. It is more important than ever to reduce production at its source and change our consumption behaviours  !  

The major challenges of the circular economy

We are rampant consumers and keep such items for less and less time. To produce goods and services, it is necessary to exploit scarce raw materials and resources. The waste generated is numerous and not all of it is recyclable (and when it is, it is not indefinitely). The pollution of our environment (air, soil, water, climate) is considerable. Since the birth of major industry, the economic model has been essentially linear: natural resources are extracted continuously and in increasing quantities to meet our needs. They are consequently consumed and then disposed of at the end of their life. 

We can and must rethink the entire life cycle of products, from their design and distribution, to their use and possible reuse, to their end of life and their recycling or disposal. Each actor will have to be involved at its own level to enable this new circular economy model. This new model is also a social vector with the development of local initiatives that strengthen the links between the actors. Indeed, it is all the actors of society: citizens, local authorities, administrations, companies, associations that are concerned. 

Necessary measures to support change

Surfrider Europe works daily and actively both on behaviour change at the individual level and on advocacy work at the European level with NGO coalitions to influence legislation and force institutions and industries to take responsibility in managing this crisis. Some States or international institutions are taking up the issue to effectively combat the invasion of plastic. Combating plastic pollution and supporting a waste-free lifestyle is a global necessity and examples are multiplying.

Discover these measures

Putting an end to the scourge of plastic pollution and overconsumption in general involves major changes, beyond the reuse of waste. Rethinking this new model and implementing it requires an intention and action on the part of each of us, to our own measure.  

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