Our Way (Out) To Waste! – Sofia Barbeiro, Portugal

Fast economic and technological development has contributed tremendously to global living conditions. For instance, it has never been easier to travel around the world, buy things produced in other continents, and redecorate homes cheaply. However, this improvement in life conditions has led to a growing problem that seems far from being resolved – waste!

landfill

Source: igem.org

Nowadays, our lifestyle is characterized by single-use everyday items, discarded again and again, accounting for huge amounts of trash. The saying “haste makes waste” is especially applicable here, since our stressed and busy lives are increasing our “need” for quick, easy-to-use products and goods.

Nevertheless, many are hopeful as efforts in the environmental field continue to promote environmentalism and inspire the world. For example, Kamikatsu is a small Japanese village aiming to become zero-waste. Its residents separate trash into 34 different categories to facilitate and optimize recycling potential. Sweden recycles 99% of its trash with the Waste-to-Energy program, preventing waste from ending up in landfills. The country plans to import 800,000 tons of garbage from other countries in Europe in order to create heat. Still, this recycling alternative is under debate due to its contribution to carbon emissions. All the same, it prevents landfill use and is still cleaner than available alternatives.

According to the European Environment Agency, in 2013, Austria, Germany and Belgium followed in the list of top recyclers within the EU. Unfortunately, Europe still wastes valuable resources in landfills. In the USA, only 34% of garbage was recycled in 2012 (according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency). Change will come slowly if easily-disposable products continue to be cheaper to produce and market than recycled goods.

In recent years, plastic pollution has emerged as arguably the biggest environmental threat to the planet. The recent report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics,” a product of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  It disclosed that the volume of plastic trash is increasing and will outweigh all the fish in the world within thirty-five years. This is because at least eight million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year. The same study found that there are 150 million tons of plastic in the ocean today.

In light of the discovery of five gyres of plastic in the world’s oceans, scientists have begun to note the consequences: many animals in the ocean are being killed either because they get stuck in plastic items or because they confuse plastic with food, eating artificial waste instead of their usual healthy diet. There are consequences for human beings too – as plastic enters the ocean food chain, it has a solid chance of being consumed by people around the world.

However, some countries are fighting back: the United States and the United Kingdom are trying to pass legislation preventing the use of microscopic plastic microbeads popular in many cosmetic products, such as toothpaste and soaps. Unfortunately, they are small enough to pass through pipe filters and end up in the ocean.

Additionally, new trends are rising in popularity around the world: package-free shops are gaining ground in Europe. These businesses encourage customers to bring their own reusable containers in an effort to avoid waste production.

It is important that, as a society, the world becomes more aware of what they buy and its effects on the environment of Earth.  In this age of convenience and waste, we need thorough reform.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that a polluted planet presents not only an ecological problem, but an issue for human survival.  Our efforts should be focused on preserving the very conditions that made life on Earth possible.

Thus, it is important to think about how citizens and world leaders can contribute to a cleaner and safer future for Earth. Locally, communities can stand together to demand better recycling policies and new approaches to trash collection and efficient recycling. Sweden is an excellent model for waste recovery.  Additionally, more governments should be compelled to pass laws that ensure health and biodiversity protection.  Internationally, the UN Global Compact is a relevant institution that supports companies aiming for ecological reformation.  Individuals can make steps to change their personal consumption choices and demand that companies produce durable products instead of incorporating planned obsolescence, among other things.

In the end, we need to realize that the depletion of natural resources and the acceleration of waste production in pursuit of instant gratification is degrading our environment.

As Gandhi once said:

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

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