It is madness that waste is not a bigger international priority

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The talk is about CO2 and no one talks about “other” pollution and about waste... especially about waste.

Our oceans are full of plastic waste and landfills leach chemicals all over the place and still everyone in power and in the NGOs has nothing else to think about than CO2.

Even when we have separate bins so to enable recycling people are far too wrapped up in themselves that they will just, without thinking, toss the wrong stuff into the wrong bin, and by their action nullify the actions of hundreds of others who did the right thing.

If people with access to proper recycling and waste management services aren’t using them properly, what about countries without those services?

But recycling is NOT the answer to our waste problem, and neither are the ways that went before, such just putting the stuff into a hole in the ground. We have to find other ways to tackle our waste, and reduction of packaging, repairability of products, and reuse must be primarily on the list.

According to experts at Rio+20, the greatest waste of time in recent history, probably, the problem with waste is far greater than the international community is recognizing. With global municipal solid waste set to double in by 2025 – mostly in developing countries without the capabilities to manage that waste – many say it’s one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time.

We are creating an environmental disaster that developing countries are ignoring at their own peril, but I would say not the developing countries alone. The developed world has a a huge waste problem but we make it easy on ourselves. Our hazardous waste and e-waste, etc., we just ship to the Third World.

Less than half the world’s population has access to proper waste disposal, causing mountains of hazardous trash – including a growing amount of e-waste – to pile up. By 2020, e-waste from consumer electronics will jump 500% in some countries. That’s causing toxic chemicals to leach into groundwater and putting a financial burden on economically-constrained countries.

Fact is, however, that most of that e-waste would not be there in those developing countries, which I will continue to call the Third World, were it not for the fact that the developing countries ship that waste for “reprocessing” to countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, etc.

And the same goes for other waste, including old ships, which end up in places such as Bangladesh to be broken up, often without any protection measures in place.

The only way, however, to tackle the waste problem is to reduce it and while it is true that waste has always existed, as we can see from the rubbish tips of bygone ages, in those days things were, however, much more repaired, reused, repurposed, and upcycled than today. Things were, in fact, often repaired until they no longer could be fixed. Today we just toss things away.

Only when we change our mindset can we get to grips with the waste problem and this also means that products must be repairable again, designed and made thus, and ideally repairable by the user even.

On top of that we must reduce the amount of packaging that products and produce are wrapped up in and it would also be good if designers of packaging would design a second use into their products. Thus people could make use of the packaging and it would, maybe, not tossed out.

If we do not tackle the waste problem tackling climate change will not longer matter for what can we do with a cool but poisoned Planet. About as much as with one that has overheated.

© 2012