Three people using reusable cups

Will reusables cut it to achieve waste avoidance?

Article written by Waste Specialist, Emma Avery.

You might be opting for eliminating single use plastics with reusables, but what about when the recycling options are tempting us?

You can find a recycling solution for pretty much any item these days, pending on your proximity to a collection point, or the will to send something away.  I’m thinking about everything from soft plastics to milk bottle lids to make up containers to toothbrushes.  

Opting to recycle, rather than avoid using that product in the first place goes against the waste hierarchy of Avoid > Reduce > Reuse > Recycle > Disposal.

Let’s take something high on the consumable list: disposable take-away coffee cups. With dining restrictions and take-away only options available during lockdowns, there has been a surge in take-away packaging consumption.  And for those who tried to bring their own cup, these may have been knocked back by the café owners, under enough stress already, who weren’t willing to take the risk of contact transmission.  

It might be some time before people get back into their original eco habits of bringing their own cups.  Meanwhile, an initiative like Simply Cups provides a single-stream collection point to recycle take away coffee cups and lids (we should all know by now, disposable cups cannot go in the kerbside household recycling bin).  Recycling take-away cups requires a separate recycling process. We can drink take-away coffee guilt free, because we know it will be recycled.

When it comes to government waste management policies and ‘towards zero waste’ documents, you will see common items as being ‘banned’ such as single use straws, cutlery and plastic bags. If implemented, these bans are all great steps to curbing plastic pollution and encouraging reuse solutions.  

I am continually on the search in these policies for the unspoken single-use plastic baby nappies/diapers, which usually end up in the category ‘problematic’ or are not even mentioned.  And fair enough, can we as a developed society go ahead and ban the disposable baby nappy!? And do the policy makers know how to even tackle this?

I run workshops hosted by local councils to introduce reusable nappies to pregnant parents and new parents groups.  Workshops go through the types and styles of modern cloth nappies available on the market and correct washing techniques (yes they have changed significantly) and other tips to know when starting out. It’s about empowering parents to use reusables, getting them geared up for continued success to avoid disposable waste to landfill. 

Parents using reusable baby nappies will save a significant amount of money, not having to buy disposable nappies over time, plus reduce the waste load if their kerbside waste bin, especially when this is a fortnightly pick up. When used consistently, reusable nappies can save parents up to $2,000 per child. 

Baby boomers out there will remind me that they all “got by just fine with the old, fold up and pin cloth nappies, so why don’t more parents use them today?!” (and I’m sure that their parents will remind them that they all got by without electric powered washing machines). But in 2023, we have access to a cheap (up-front) and convenient disposable nappy, which is easily opted for especially when mothers' and fathers’ roles extend to outside the family home.  

The reality is, only 10-15 % of Australian parents are using reusable nappies for their children. And of these users, only a quarter use reusables 100% of the time.

The reality is, only 10-15 % of Australian parents are using reusable nappies for their children. And of these users, only a quarter use reusables 100% of the time. It is very common for parents who opt for reusable cloth nappies, to use a hybrid mix of both reusables and disposables. 

As a solution to reducing the single use disposable nappy, will reusables cut it?  Or should we look to recycling options and processes out there to really tackle the most common denominator?

I am excited to be joining Runway HQ’s Circular Economy Business Growth Program, Ready Set Grow to further develop this idea and how a model of product stewardship can be applied to products which deserve to be recycled or reprocessed and therefore, reducing our reliance on landfilling.  

A bin-nerd at heart, Emma Avery and has been described as a guru in all aspects of sustainability. With her experience in local and state government plus small business owner, she continues to communicate the sustainable living message through podcast interviews, public speaking, local radio shows, local media and guest blogging.

Her business EA Sustainability focuses on the education and messaging needed to communicate change in waste behaviours, working with community organisations, local and state governments on waste behaviour change and implementation projects.

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