Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rubbish, Trash, Refuse, Garbage and Junk!

The "Wikipedia" definition of "Waste". Sums it up pretty nicely!

Waste drives me crazy. You see it everywhere, on the street on my walk home, in the park I run around on the weekend, on campus even in the corridors, on the beach I go swimming at, and even at the very bottom of the ocean (above, a paint can, 3000m down in the North Atlantic). Waste, created and discarded by humans is, quite literally, everywhere. It's a bit of a puzzle to me too, why do we create all these things to throw them away? Why is that 2cm pen drive packaged in a 20cm plastic square? Why are those apples packaged in a plastic box? Why does cereal come in a bag, and a box? All questions that confound me on a regular basis.

If cereal just came in a bag, and not a box, it would reduce packaging costs by a third. You can fit more bags on a pallet than you can boxes, so transport costs are cut. This medium you would have thought would be better for our wallets as well as the Earth, and if it's all thought about logically, most environmentally conscious decisions should, in theory, cost us all less. We've gone a little packaging crazy over the 100 years, with newer and better technology, meant to make those apples look that little bit more tasty. For me it's a real turn off, I can't physically bring myself to buy apples in plastic packaging, even if they are half the price, I just can't do it.

Each person on this planet puts out an average of 572.4kgs of waste per year. In the US the average is a staggering 760kgs per year, in the UK it is 560kgs per year. And population is rising rapidly, leaving us questioning where is all this waste going to go? Landfill? We're running out of room. Incineration? Well, there are good programs out there, but the majority are not. It is certainly something that should be seriously considered. Ocean? Well, there's plenty of room in the deep-sea. Don't laugh, it is actually happening.

So today, is a good day, to think about waste. Here are the three things that I try and live by -

Prevent It: Stay away from "one-time wonders" and buy only what I need, and buy good quality that will last many years to come; stay away from excessive packaging where possible; never use plastic shopping bags (I try so hard to always bring my own, but always seem to end up with the odd plastic bag maybe once a month or so).

Re-use It: Buy only things that can be reused (resuseable bags, boxes, lunch wrappers); though I don't do this significantly, there are things I will seek out used rather than new, as long as good quality and not just accumulation.

Recycle It: Everything physically possible, goes into my recycle bin. And some things that aren't on the Hawaii list (which is a lot). There's a small campaign here to load the recycle centers with other plastics they don't currently accept, so that they can a) be used in the incinerators to help the recycle process rather than ending up in a landfill in California, and b) get records on other plastics so that they can get the recycling equipment.

So day 3 of Earth Week, and today it's Waste, one of my biggest pet peeves!


PleaseRecycle said...

Great posts this week. I would love to hear your thoughts on cloth diapers. I've been trying to figure out whether they use more water than disposables. On the one hand, disposables don't require any extra flushing or washing, while cloth requires me to do at least 2-3 additional loads of laundry per week. I have a low water HE machine, but it doesn't do well with the diapers so I have to run a bunch of extra rinses. On the other hand, disposables probably use a lot of water in the manufacturing process; with cloth diapers, that cost is a one-time thing. Overall, I think cloth is better for the environment (anything re-usable really), but my concern is specifically about water. Sorry for rambling... it's just something I think about a lot!!

RGW said...

My main thoughts on cloth diapers are really based on where you live - here in Hawaii for instance we have a good (though could be better) water system but we ship waste to California as we've run out of room - here I would use cloth diapers without a second thought. If i lived in an area where water was scarce, I would consider using disposables and think that is the more eco friendly route in that situation.

The main issues I have with disposable goes beyond the water that is needed to manufacture them. The chemicals that are used, the raw materials, the sheer amount of waste per baby and the leaching of landfills into water sources, causing bacterial blooms and harmful viruses.

If I did live in a drought area I think I would consider the biodegradable ones made of cornstarch and compost them at home. But considering the resuseable aspect of cloth, that they survive through many children, for me it's hands down cloth in areas where water supply is good.

With your machine having to do so many rinses that is a pest, and i'm not sure what I would do. If you put less in does it still not do well? I know that would mean more loads, but maybe less water in the long run with less rinses? Do you hang dry them?

PleaseRecycle said...

Thanks for you input. I've found that if I rinse the diapers in the bathtub (a long soak) once every 2 weeks or so, that gets out any detergent that doesn't rinse- so actually I only have to do one extra rinse per load (still less water than a regular machine). I'm anxious to try a new detergent that claims to be more clean rinsing and better for HE machines, but I think they just require a good soak in a tub of water every once in a while. We do hang dry the diapers (weather permitting).

I agree with you about all the other issues with disposables, and I really like that cloth diapers get the waste water into the proper treatment channels. I've tried the compostable diapers and found that they leaked a lot and it didn't really reduce the amount of laundry by much (in our case).

I definitely feel like I've chosen the most eco-friendly diaper for us- we're using the same diapers on kid #3. They have plenty of life left in them too, so I'll probably sell them or give them to a friend when Liam is out of diapers.