What would a zero waste world look like? One dimension is efficient recycling. But to truly get to zero waste, you'd need to go beyond recycling into reduce and reuse. In South Australia, they’re experimenting with how to take this one step further by adding “avoid” to the top of the waste management hierarchy.
To help avoid, Zero Waste SA created Share N Save, a map of “free stuff, shareable stuff, swappable stuff, community stuff you can borrow.” The site features an interactive maps that shows people to all the sharing services near them and helps communities find ways to avoid buying stuff in the first place.
Shareable recently chatted with Matthew Scales of Zero Waste SA about the importance of building sustainable communities, how they’re introducing people to sharing, and South Australia’s rich history of environmental and social innovation.
Share N Save helps people connect with sharing services in their neighborhood
Shareable: South Australia has one of the most successful waste diversion programs in the world. What do you attribute the success of the program to?
Matthew Scales: South Australians have a long history of environmental protection and being socially progressive. Since the 1970s we’ve had Container Deposit Legislation (the cash for containers scheme that gives consumers 10¢ for each eligible container returned) – the first state in Australia to have such a scheme. There’s a real pride in this scheme by South Australians and that’s flowed into the support for kerbside recycling systems as well.
Since Zero Waste SA’s establishment in 2004 we’ve worked closely with local government and the waste and recycling industry to refine the kerbside waste collection system resulting in the systems becoming more standardised across the state, with the ‘3 bin system’ being the default for most councils; a bin for organic waste which is sent for composting and turned into a product to enrich soils in one of the driest and most arid areas in Australia, a bin for co-mingled recyclables such as glass, paper and metals and a smaller bin for materials that can’t be recovered that are sent to landfill.
Add to that our relationship with the construction and demolition and commercial and industrial sectors where Zero Waste SA provides education about resource recovery and more efficient waste management practices in the production process as well as funding infrastructure and equipment to recover and recycle more materials more effectively and Australia’s first ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags and you can see the effect of all of Zero Waste SA’s initiatives contribute to our recovery and diversion rates of over 75 percent.
What is the Share N Save project? How did it come about? How does it fit into the Zero Waste program?
The Share N Save website is effectively a mapping website for collaborative consumption and sharing activities in South Australia. It’s the first of its kind in Australia and it helps South Australians discover local groups, events and activities to help with the cost of living, to connect with their local community and to avoid resources being wasted. The Share N Save website maps activities like toy libraries, community gardens, collective cooking groups and community produce swaps. It also takes in bike sharing, nappy libraries and things like Men’s Sheds.
At Zero Waste SA we’re interested in promoting sustainability on a level that goes far deeper than just concern for our use of resources and the physical environment, and focusing on sustainable communities and sustainable societies. We’re picturing the kind of neighbourhoods we want to live and work in, and that is a neighbourhood that is connected, resource efficient and compassionate.
The waste management hierarchy in South Australia places “avoid” ahead of reduce, reuse and recycle. This is a vital aspect of the sharing economy: that we don’t need to buy everything we need. Can you talk about the importance of this approach and how it’s being received?
‘Avoidance’ is so hard to target. It’s (relatively speaking) easy to explain to a householder what to do with a glass jar once it’s empty to ensure it doesn’t go to landfill, or help a business look at reducing their waste management costs by being smarter with their resources but what do you do to encourage people in our fast moving, consumer goods-driven society to actually buy less stuff? It’s an easy goal to identify as the top of the list in terms of the Waste Management Hierarchy because with less consumption comes less waste, less resource use, less energy and water use. But the question is, how do we do target that goal?
We started looking at the sharing movement and collaborative consumption as a great fit for that challenge. As the saying goes “You don’t need a drill, you just need a hole in the wall.” So, how can we as a society get access to make the hole without owning the drill? Collaborative consumption fits that bill. And not just issues of ownership are addressed through this, but core values of Zero Waste SA around avoiding valuable resources being sent to landfill.
When summer harvest time kicks in here in a few months time we’re looking at suburban backyards burgeoning with fruit and vegetables – but how many pears can you realistically eat and preserve? Sharing through food swaps and collaborative cooking firstly gets you access to a wider variety of produce at no to low cost and secondly stops your excess going to waste. Mapping and fostering this kind of behaviour goes to the heart of the principles of avoidance.
As an extension of South Australia’s Zero Waste initiative, Share N Save is in a great position to not only help people cut down their waste, but introduce them to the other benefits of sharing: building community, saving money, saving resources etc. What has the response been to some of these benefits of Share N Save that extend beyond waste reduction? Any unexpected responses or results?
Reconnecting with your local community has benefits well beyond just waste reduction. The State Government in South Australia has identified key areas in which to focus to improve our state which include:
- giving our children every chance to achieve their potential in life
- keeping our communities safe and our citizens healthy
- building our reputation for premium food and wine
- creating a vibrant city that energises and excites
- keeping our high quality of life affordable for everyone.
Looking at that list, fostering the sharing movement and a culture of collaborative consumption is crucial for tackling those goals. Sharing can be seen as the blueprint to how we can start to address those priorities.
How could you keep life affordable for South Australians? Through sharing access to what you have to get what you need.
How would you keep your community safer? By being more connected with your neighbours, by engaging with those who are marginalised or disenfranchised, by providing those in need with access to the excess of others (for example through initiatives funded by Zero Waste SA to redistribute food like Oz Harvest and Foodbank)
The interactive aspect of Share N Save is really exciting. I think it’s important for people to have access, not just to a list of available services, but to see what’s going on near them. What are the benefits of having the services mapped in this way?
Having a real-time map of your area is what keeps the content fresh and what we call hyper-local. It’s great to see the kind of activities taking place around the state but what personalises this and what drives the community to take the next step and connect with an activity in their area is that a map like this allows people to say “Hey, that’s just around the corner from me and I never knew it”.
Share N Save emphasizes the ground-up, community aspect of sharing and the power of communities to transform themselves in small, but meaningful, ways. What’s your big picture vision for this project? What would be the ideal outcome be?
Firstly, our goal is to map every single existing sharing activity already taking place in South Australia – and each time we present to a community group or different organisation people say “Oh have you spoken to those guys?” or “You should list this activity” and we unearth more content for the site, so in a year from now hopefully we’ll have twice the amount of content we do now and we’ll have a greater amount of activities in regional areas.
Secondly, we want to move towards one-to-one sharing. Right now we’re still in the phase of proving the concept and raising awareness in the sharing movement, and about what the current site does in connecting groups to groups and individuals to groups or activities. But we see no reason the site can’t move towards users registering to share and borrow on a much bigger and more personal scale.
If we can achieve that, we’d see South Australia emerge as one of the places the world intrinsically associated with the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. We also hope that through connecting South Australians using our site to resources on sites like Shareable and OuiShare they get inspired by what’s happening around the world and start activities up that aren’t being done in South Australia yet or even better they dream up ideas in the sharing space that aren’t being done anywhere yet.
Given South Australia’s reputation for being thought leaders and pioneers on environmental issues and issues of social progression (it’s not just our ‘firsts’ in terms of the environment like the plastic bag ban or deposits on containers; in 1894 South Australia was the first state in Australia to give women the right to vote and the first place in the world to allow women to run for office) we hope that the next big idea in the sharing movement that transforms sharing or transforms the technology we use to facilitate it is one from a person right here South Australia.