War on waste

Just when I thought I knew enough about this…

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I’m not sure how similar your culture is to mine, but I’m guessing that most parts of the world have a strong emphasis on recycling and the dangers of plastic bags to our environment. I’ve been well aware of these issues for some time – in fact decades ago (the early 90’s?) Australians were first exposed to dramatic and detailed exposes of the desperate need for recycling and what we could do about it. But recently, to my surprise, I watched a 3 part series which rocked me now (and apparently much of our nation as well) almost as much as we were rocked back then.

More of that later. But for now, let me recount history as I remember it. It was only in the 1990’s that recycle bins came to be the norm here in Australia. Before then, all rubbish went into the same bins and into landfill. I’m not sure what was the groundswell behind it all, but I remember various documentaries that captured the nation’s attention. Everyone was talking about the needless waste of our planet’s resources, and, via TV, radio and newspaper, we were all exhorted to develop recycling habits. It was the era when recycled paper was born.

At first, if I remember correctly, we had elaborate suggestions of up to 5 different rubbish bins (or trash cans, as some of you might call them) – one for food scraps, one for glass, one for paper, and so on. Over time that has settled down to one normal bin for typical rubbish and one recycling bin for plastic, paper, glass and tin. I’m curious to know what recycling measures your country typically has in place.

Like most things, intensity of feeling can’t last for ever, and whilst recycling is a firm part of our modern agenda, the fervour that gripped our nation back then has settled into a more or less comfortable routine. But recently, the ABC aired a 3 part series called “War on Waste” – a fascinating and surprising look at the amount of waste that occurs in our Australian society. When Linda and I first decided to watch it, my feeling was one of interest but not much more. It didn’t take me long to become quite shocked all over again at the waste in our society.

The series is separated in 3 parts – the first episode deals with the waste of food, the second with the dilemma of plastic, and the third with clothing. And it wasn’t your typical sensationalist kind of documentary. The way the series was handled was simply brilliant (or maybe that’s just my Australian demeanour shining through). The presenter was relaxed, laid back, thoroughly non-fanatical but still sharp and to the point. No deep, dark music or disturbing “Star Wars” type soundtracks to remind you how ‘serious’ this all is, just a laconic, easy going Aussie who was a pleasure to listen to and even a bit humorous, whilst driving home lots of uncomfortable truths that most of us were unaware of.

For example , did you know that up to half (yes half) of our food is thrown away? It happens at the farms where produce that doesn’t ‘look’ just right is dumped and left to rot in piles; it happens at supermarkets where produce that is slightly damaged, or not moving off the shelves, or reaching its use by date, are dumped in bins; and it happens in our own homes, where food is bought, not consumed and then thrown out.

I don’t know if that’s news to you, but it was to me. In a prosperous nation like Australia, that ‘s an awful lot of food. Of course, there are charities and various groups at work to try and pick up this food before it spoils and redistribute it to the needy, but it is apparently still only a small percentage that gets meaningfully redistributed.

There’s a lot more to the series than just food, but I thought I would use that one issue as an example. I know that, depending on which country you are in, you may not have access to the series, but if you’re interested in checking it out here’s the link to it (not sure how long it will remain up for, but it’s there at the moment):

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/war-on-waste/

And just like in the 90’s (well, maybe not quite as strongly as back then) lots of people are responding to the show and it’s revelations. In our world of online participation, ABC websites are being inundated with requests and support for the various calls to action that are presented throughout the series.

So what effect has it had on me? Well, I’m not about to rush out and try and change the world (maybe that’s just my age showing). But in little ways, my wife and I are being challenged.

Though we were well aware of the dangers of plastic bags, we’re trying harder now to use even less, and are gathering up the ones we do have to deposit in special recycling bins available in select locations (apparently plastic bags and other “soft” plastics are difficult to recycle and require a different recycling treatment to normal hard plastics like soft drink bottles etc). We’re also seriously considering reusable coffee cups, as the disposable ones are not only very difficult to recycle but they are used in the tens of thousands every hour in Melbourne alone. I say ” seriously considering” because although we really don’t want to add to the waste problem, carrying around a reusable coffee cup is awkward, especially for us guys who don’t tend to use handbags. Apparently more coffee shops are accepting them now though, and I’m sure we’ll at least give it a go.

Apart from those specific things, we’re more alert to the issues and will see how that unfolds over time. Though there’s not much we can do about the waste in supermarkets and farms, we can choose to buy more of the ‘odd shaped’ fruit and veg available in some stores. Woolworths, for example, has an “Odd Bunch” line of fruit and veg that is exactly that – a deliberate choice to sell odd shaped produce, at a cheaper rate, that would not normally sell because it isn’t asthetically pleasing to look at. And though I doubt that we’ll join a picket line any time soon, there may be online petitions that we can add our signatures too, or politicians we might write to as part of a broader attempt to raise issues.

So that’s it for now. I’m pretty sure you can tell I’m no radical ‘save the world’ fanatic, but just a normal person who is being made more aware of just how ridiculous some things have become. I don’t want to see our food wasted, especially when there are so many starving in the world; I don’t want to see our oceans clogged with ever increasing levels of plastic; I don’t want to see clothing being worn once and thrown away (not quite so riveting to me personally, but an eye opening example of the incredible waste and misuse of resources in our throw away world).

Of course, it’s up to you what you do. Maybe you knew all of this already. Maybe you didn’t, but you’re already waging an effective war on waste. Or maybe you are neither of those things, but somewhere in between. I’m posting this in an obvious attempt to motivate others in the same way as I have been. I hope it motivates you too.