There is a systemic difference between the words wasting and littering, which has huge effects on the potential for recycling and a cleaner society. This startling difference in language and thus behaviour became clear to me on a recent trip I made to Florianópolis, the capital of one of Brazil’s most developed states, Santa Catarina.
There I was welcomed by NovoCiclo, a pioneering sustainable business with a mission to create a zero waste society. Founded by Rodrigo Sabatini, the organisation delivers services to clients that improve the organisation’s or household’s waste management and installs aesthetic systems to change behaviour.
For the fact of the matter is that our global waste problem is as much a behaviour issue as it is an infrastructure problem.
Litter vs. Waste
Given today’s production and consumption processes it is impossible to produce litter. However, it is possible to generate zero waste.
Litter, by definition, “consists of waste products that have been disposed of improperly, without consent, in an inappropriate location.” (Wiki-P).
In contrast, “waste is an object the holder discards, intends to discard or is required to discard.” (European Union)
There are many different types of waste, which only become litter when discarded of inappropriately and when it becomes contaminated, infected and mixed up with organic waste and other types of wet waste. To avoid littering, separation of waste types is key to make recycling and material recovery as effective as possible.
Below is a photo of different types of wastes that have been dumped next to a river. I took this picture in 2008, not knowing I’d return to the issue 4 years later. Children played right next to this heap, which contains organic waste, plastic and household items – all which could have been recycled and disposed of had it been separated and collected correctly.
On a global scale, I wasn’t aware that the size of the Pacific Rubbish Patch is half the size of Brazil and consists of 100 million tonnes of rubbish. This is the issue NovoCiclo are trying to solve, and it begins in our homes.
The amount of waste we collect determines the efficiency of the recycling chain and system, which is made up of various processes depicted in the image below regarding electronic waste. If collection is low, end-processing is expensive and produced little output in terms of recycled materials. Each year, around 40 million tonnes of e-waste is produced, 80% of which ends up in dumps, landfills or is informally recycled in China or in African states.
Until recently I wasn’t aware of the difference between litter and waste, which is more pronounced in Brazilian Portuguese. ‘Lixo’ (pronounced lee-sho) refers to a mixture of different types of waste that cannot be disposed of correctly. ‘Residuos’ refers to waste types that have been separated for recycling, i.e. plastics, paper, organic waste etc.
An innovative business solution
NovoCiclo specialises in providing zero waste services, helping clients like residential buildings, companies and government bodies to create zero waste.
Their primary strategy is behaviour change through design, marketing and aesthetics. The concept is simple: set up a system that helps people separate their waste as much as possible. What once was a heap of mixed rubbish items turns into an organised, clean and tidy collection site.
This is one of the systems designed by NovoCiclo’s team. It’s intended for household use and provides different compartments and space for waste types: plastic, paper, electronic, organic and glass amongst others.
NovoCiclo provide great looking infographics for clients that breakdown how much waste was separated, what type of wastes were generated and how much CO2, trees, water and energy clients saved. They typically reduce client’s litter production by over 90%, facilitating correct waste disposal so that as much as possible is recycled.
They’ve also set up a big recycling shipping container in the city, Espaço Recicle, intended to raise awareness and engage people in waste separation. Anybody can walk in on one end with their separated waste in exchange for reward points. These points can be exchanged for recycled and upcycled products on the other end of the shipping container.
Tackling the global waste issue
I often hear people discredit the effect of individual action on issues such as global climate change, rising CO2 and degradation of our ecosystems. If my trip to Florianopolis taught me one thing, it’s that all of us are responsible for the waste we produce as individuals. To make recycling and waste management as efficient as possible, collection rates need to be high. The more households separate waste, the better and more efficient collection can be. Our input determines the efficiency of the recycling chain.
What you can do
- Educate yourself – understand your local waste management system and collection
- Separate your waste – especially try to keep your wet/organic waste separate from dry waste (paper, plastic, etc.)
- Dispose correctly – especially e-waste, take it to credited e-waste recyclers
- Engage yourself – take it one step further and try to recycle your food waste in a wormery or in a compost box