about what we can do at home to protect the environment
If we have the will, the desire to contribute to the protection of nature and the built environment around us, we have to start small. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, goes the saying, so let’s not blame the government, or fate, or the lack of time for our own passivity. It’s not worth brooding over “it has no impact if I act alone”, or “we should’ve began decades ago”. Societies that are now better off than Hungary started out just like that (only a bit earlier).
The point is that we’re not helpless! Every person in every household (even the tiniest ones) can do something without investing a penny! Which, even if it’s just a drop in the ocean, does matter!
I compiled a non-exhaustive list, a kind of action plan that requires minimum effort, can be started at any time, and can be implemented by anyone. Written by Noémi Szabó.
(Translator’s note: the article is based on systems, organisations, and regulations in Hungary. Please consider local conditions.)
- Recycle! (you can read more about the topic here)
Let’s start with one of the most important and easiest things. There are about three types of excuses by those who do not recycle:
- “Here, in our small village, there are no recycling opportunities, no one collects recyclable waste.”
It’s easy for me, living in the capital, since the infrastructure has been well established here for years. Blue and yellow waste containers are provided to every residential building (be it a block of flats or a detached house). Watch FKF’s (Metropolitan Public Area Maintenance Company, Budapest) demonstration here. Recycling banks, where we can bring colored and white glass, have also been installed within a certain distance from each other. However, the system is getting better in the countryside, too. In some villages, recyclable waste is collected in bags. So, this can only be a counter-argument for those who live in the most remote parts of the country, miles away from the nearest waste yard.
- “My kitchen is too small, more bins will just not fit.”
Well, my kitchen is small, too (1.5 x 3 metres), and still, recycling works well with simply a couple of plastic bags. Moreover, this counts as reusing the bag, so we hit two birds with one stone :). Glass bottles do not need their own containers, I just collect them in the cupboard under the sink.
- “I saw them mixing the sorted waste in the garbage truck, there’s no point in separating it.”
You might have seen this maybe 10 years ago when the system was not as effective as in 2019, or you happened to see a vehicle with separate compartments to store different fractions. In no other case can we talk about mixing recycled waste, so this is not an excuse!
After getting over all this, everyone can start building their own recycling system at home, so bring out those 2 or 3 bags that we can fit next to our waste bin, and let’s start sorting! I’d like to add here that pizza boxes can only be recycled if they don’t contain leftover food and if they’re not too greasy. Used paper tissues shouldn’t end up in the recycle bin, and baby wipes shouldn’t end up in the toilet!
Collection of used cooking oil is also worth mentioning. Used cooking oil can be handed over at waste yards, certain MOL gas stations, and at collection sites of Biofilter Co. (collection site finder here), from whom companies can even order waste transportation (here). Or, in lucky cases, like in our stairwell, there’s a dedicated barrel for just that.
And if you have waste oil and oil cans, for example after the annual engine oil change, you can bring these, too, to gas stations (info about this here). Alternatively, you can take them to hazardous waste disposals, where residential quantities are taken over free of charge.
Recycling electronic waste also belongs here. These are considered hazardous waste, therefore it’s very important that they don’t end up in an illegal waste dump next to a road. Aside from taking it to a waste yard, I think it’s easier just to bring it back to the store (either to the one where you’ve bought it originally, or any other).
This is quite easy, since a store is probably easier to find nearby than a waste yard, and it’s more cost efficient, too, since a government decree requires sellers not only to take back electronic waste, but to offer a discount, too! (More info can be found on the websites of Praktiker and Media Markt). And used batteries can be disposed of almost everywhere, as even the smallest convenience stores and offices have battery recycling boxes.
Lastly, there’s the topic of collecting or handing on used clothes. As always, reuse would be the best. You can even make a bit of pocket money if you organize a wardrobe sale and sell your clothes (those which you haven’t worn in years and which only take up place, but “I’ll lose some weight eventually and they’ll fit again”) at a budget-friendly price to your friends. If you don’t want to deal with all that, you can just toss them into a used clothing collection bin, from where they get to Red Cross. If you don’t trust this method for some reason, you can send your clothes directly to the organization. Certain stores do recycle and/or reuse: H&M will not only take over your used clothes, but give you a coupon as well (read more about this here).
- Save on water/heating/lighting!
I’m going to say something very simple and very rational: the water doesn’t have to be running all the time while brushing your teeth, washing your hair, or washing the dishes!
Unfortunately, for many people this is still not self-explanatory. Even though there’s nothing else to do but to turn off the tap when you’re not using the water for anything. And by showering instead of taking baths, you can save even more (even your wallet will be happier). Of course, you can also save on the air conditioner if you don’t set it to 15 degrees, and on heating if you don’t set the thermostat to 26 degrees. I find it positively annoying when the lights are on in all rooms of an apartment, regardless of people being there or not. Please switch off the lights when leaving a room!
- Don’t burn plastic!
Already when I was a child, my mother taught me not to throw plastic (or other dangerous waste) in the fire. Of course, she explained this in simple terms: she said if something burns with a black smoke, it’s bad (thank you, Mom!). So those who heat with wood (and who are the next biggest producers of suspended particulate matter after the industry and transportation) should really only use wood, not lacquered blockboards, household waste, rubber, or clothing. Not only because of air pollution, but because of carcinogenicity (and causing other respiratory diseases), and because of damaging stoves and chimneys. And even if you don’t heat with wood, still keep barbecues and kettle cooking in mind!
- Don’t throw pharmaceutical products into communal waste!
To prevent unapproved usage and potentially serious poisoning, expired or unused pharmaceuticals must not end up in the trash. Therefore we should always bring leftover drugs back to any pharmacy.
There are no excuses, as every single pharmacy in the country will take them.
As we can see from the steps listed so far, managing waste is a lot of work. So it’s best to avoid generating waste in the first place! Admittedly, our world is far away from not producing packaging, food waste, construction waste etc. If we already have it, let’s at least make use of it! You can use a plastic bag over and over until it rips. A bottle can be refilled numerous times. Egg cartons can be used for multiple things, we can get creative, or just bring them to a market and give them to people who sell eggs. The list goes on, our imagination is the only limit. (an endless number of tips can be found online, for example here). During my research for this article, I stumbled upon FKF’s exercise book for children, which guides the next generation towards mindfulness in a cute way (see it here).
- Avoid using:
- plastic straws (alternative materials are available, examples here)
- soda caps in fast food restaurants
- disposable razors and bottled shaving foam (instead, use reusable metal razors and shaving soap)
- separate plastic bags for every single vegetable in the grocery store
- PET bottles! Use beverage carton whenever possible, and reuse bottles as many times as possible!
Here’s an unsettling video that shows what can happen when plastic straws make it into the ocean.
- Choose products according to labels, use energy efficient light bulbs and recycled (toilet) paper!
I’m a bit hesitant to include these three, as so far the list only included free solutions.
These, however, require investment, because even if it’s clear that energy efficient lights pay for themselves in the long run and that it’s better to buy products made out of recycled materials, not everyone can afford them. Also, taking product labels (read the article dedicated to these here) into account lets us choose and buy domestic and/or A+ energy efficiency products, but of course they’ll cost more.
Source of featured image: flickr.com
Translated by Ádám Hittaller