The Game of Trash: Which Mastery Level Are You At?
Like any game worth playing, there are levels for you to advance through to become the ultimate Trash-Master.
If you are following this Zero-Waste-wannabe series, you have hopefully by this time conducted your own personal waste audit and are more intimate with the details of your trash can than you probably care to be. Great!
In this post, we’ll go through the different mastery levels at which we can handle our waste. And while Game of Trash is nowhere near as exciting or scandalous as Game of Thrones, it is still a game worth winning!
Level 1: You chuck everything into the trash can, because meh.
At this level, you are essentially a noob at this game. You make no distinction among your waste - everything just goes into the gaping hole of your trash can and mixes together in one big, unattractive goop.
Everything and anything goes into this one
As far as you are concerned, the minute you put the trash out of your door, it is no longer your responsibility, and it will be taken away by someone, whoever that is. You are not aware or not concerned with issues of landfill pollution or plastic pollution or the tragedy of a whale dying because its stomach is filled with plastic bags.
Game Items required: Nothing, because that’s essentially what you’re doing - nothing.
Game commentary: Please don’t remain at this level. You gotta level up!
Level 2: You separate your trash into recyclables and non-recyclables.
At this level, you are aware that not all trash is equal. Back when you were a kid, your school held campaigns about the 3Rs or the 5Rs or however many Rs there are, and you remember enough that you know some things can be put back into use.
You know, for example, that newspaper and papers can be easily recycled, and may have even watched your parents sell their stack of old newspaper to the old newspaper guy on a bike. You also know that plastic bottles and soda cans are recyclable, and make the effort to separate them into their own trash bags or throw them into the right bins at the shopping mall.
Recycling bins at IKEA
You are also aware that the Government recently made it mandatory to separate your waste, and are dutifully doing so like the good citizen that you are.
Game Items required: Recycling station at home, with separate bins for different materials.
The recycling station by the kitchen in our home.
Notice the (deliberate) difference in sizes between the recycling bins and trash can.
Game commentary: While recycling has always been touted as a ‘good thing’ to do, it is actually the second worst thing we can do with our trash (the worst being simply throwing them away, that is).
Recycling is less than ideal because for one, our recycling rate in Malaysia is pathetic, and two, the process downgrades the original material into something weaker and lesser. It also requires quite an infrastructure and a ton of energy to do.
But hey, it is at least a little bit better than throwing waste into the landfill, and you would be surprised at the range of things that our National Solid Waste Management Department accepts!
WARNING: You separating your trash is great, however, don’t stop there - make sure they are going to the right places! If you painstakingly separate your recyclables, but they end up being taken to the landfill anyway by your service provider, then what is the point?
The same is true for ‘biodegradable’ things. A quick science review: to biodegrade, oxygen, water and decomposers are needed. In a landfill, everything is sealed in large plastic sheets, which means at least two of the three essential ingredients are not there for biodegradation to happen. So if you’re sending biodegradable things to the landfill, it is the same as sending any trash to the landfill - nothing happens.
Level 3: You separate your recyclables from your non-recyclables, and you compost your food waste
On top of separating your trash and ensuring they go to the right places (recyclables to recycling centres and non-recyclables to the dumping ground), you also go the extra mile by salvaging your food waste via composting!
You fully know that there are tons of nutrients in our food waste that can be utilised for enriching the soil, and you also know that these nutrients are completely wasted in the landfill where everything is sealed up forever.
So instead of adding your food waste into the trash can, you separate them out and put them in a compost bin instead, where they will degrade and turn into rich soil. You also chuck in other biodegradable things in there, like your nail clippings, all the hair you shed on a daily basis, tissues, biodegradable plastic bags, biodegradable toothbrushes, etc.
The composter I DIY-ed that fits on the balcony of our apartment.
You then use the material to fertilise your garden, or if you don’t have a garden, you give them away to grateful, garden-owning friends or sell them off to avid gardeners.
Game items required: A composter for the house or community you live in. You can also easily construct one with just two crates!
Game commentary: It may sound a bit daunting to have your own composter, but it is actually super easy to build and to maintain! There are many ways to compost, from the simple to the high-tech, from slow to within 24 hours… check out my post on composting to find out more.
WARNING: All those biodegradable stuff that people tout as eco-friendly? Be careful, not all claims are true. Some may indeed biodegrade, but only after 10 years in your compost bin. While it is much better to purchase biodegradable stuff than non-biodegradable, non-recyclable stuff, just be sure that your money is indeed being spent well and that you are not being duped by greenwashing marketing.
Level 4: You actively try to reduce the amount of waste you produce.
We’re now getting into the crème de la crème of players in this Game of Trash. At this level, not only have you accomplished everything in the previous levels, you also find ways to reduce the amount of waste you put out into the world!
To start with, you buy less useless stuff. You reuse a lot of the old things and breathe new life into them in creative ways (or if you’re not creative, you turn to the internet to benefit from the collective creativity found there). You also cut down on the amount you throw away by opting for reusable items rather than disposable items.
Game items required: A willingness to reduce waste through prudence and creativity.
Game commentary: The range of things you can do at this level is immense! From the simple act of switching to reusable bags (and actually remembering to carry them with you on shopping days!), to the more complicated act of changing your diet to incorporate less packaged food and more fresh food, you can start as small or as big as you want!
Level 5: Trash? What trash? You know of no such thing.
This is the ultimate level of Game of Trash mastery - you don’t have to separate or recycle or reduce trash because you don’t have any (or at least not a whole lot of them)! As they say about medical diseases, prevention is better than cure, and preventing trash is the best way to stop trash pollution, as opposed to going around collecting them from our oceans.
Or, gee, I dunno, maybe stop dirtying the ocean
so we don't have to go on a super expensive and ineffective clean up mission
over 71% of the planet's surface in the first place?
From here on, it’s on to a completely different, more challenging game - showing and convincing others how to rise up the ranks in this Game of Trash. Share your tips with others like Bea Johnson did, or open a zero-waste shop like Lauren Singer did, or do whatever works for you to help others become more like you!
Game items required: A way to share your achievements and tips with others who want to do the same
Game commentary: This is the equivalent of sitting on the Iron Throne, but without the bloodshed and unnecessary drama and backstabbing. You’ve made it to the top, and now it’s about helping others get there as well!
Regardless of which level you are at, there is always room to level up! Often, the hardest step is just getting started. To help you with this, this series will continue with tips and recommendations for every trash category I can think of.
Next... we'll chip away at the items in the trash can one at a time, starting with... stationery!