How To Help The Planet With Better Waste Management

Waste, a term we use to define objects that no longer serve any purpose or offer any further use. For years we carelessly discarded multitudes of miscellaneous items and belongings believing they could no longer be used for anything useful or even profitable.

We now stand in 2016 and our waste has become more important than ever. Many countries have come together to stand against the careless disposal of waste to create a greener, eco-friendly environment.

Facts don’t lie, below are just a few that highlight the effects our waste has on both the environment and our day-to-day lives.

Five facts about waste you may not know

  1. We throw out roughly 50 million tonnes of electrical waste every year. That equates to almost eight million buses worth of computer equipment, TVs, kitchen appliances and stereos alone.
  2. 7.2 million tonnes of food every is thrown away, more than half of which is perfectly edible.
  3. The amount of rubbish produced by the UK could fill Lake Windermere in just eight months.
  4. Plastic bags take 1,000 years to decompose in landfill. We use around 500 million plastic bags a week in the UK alone.
  5. A single leaky tap in your house can waste as much as 5,000 litres of water a year. If we fixed our taps we could supply 120,000 people with a day’s worth of water.

As shocking as these facts are, there are cities that are tackling these issues.

Countries successfully tackling the waste movement

Hamburg headlines the attack on waste, stating that in twenty years they will have banned cars from their city. For a country that gave us the Mercedes and the Autobahn, they have taken an ironic but noble U-turn for the betterment of their ecosystem. The focus is to replace the car with the bicycle, encouraging commuters to cycle to work and indulge in the refreshing landscape.

This will be put into motion following the audacious urban development scheme named “Green Network.” The aim is to have all vehicles banned by 2034. However, this does not mean that all transport will be eliminated. Public transport services such as busses and trams will be active but people are inclined to travel via bicycle or on foot. A series of idyllic green thoroughfares are being created in an attempt to invite people to travel car-free.

Hamburg’s spokeswoman Angelika Fritsch envisions:

“a network that doesn’t just help residents get from point A to B in a sustainable fashion. It will offer people opportunities to hike, swim, do water sports, enjoy picnics restaurants, experience calms and watch nature right in the city.”

Hamburg’s idea makes for an inviting precedent. Another city following a similar path is Copenhagen, they are currently building “bicycle superhighways” which spread out from the city to the outskirts. Like Hamburg, they look to encourage commuters and tourists alike to adopt a more scenic and environmentally-friendly approach to their daily travels.
London too seeks to improve their ecological standing by creating a ‘cycling utopia’. Foster and Partners revealed a scheme in 2014 that sought to transform London’s railways into cycling freeways. The futuristic concept would connect more than six million residents to an elevated network of car-free bicycle paths built above London’s existing railway lines if approved. Norman Foster believes that:

“by using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.”

This would drastically improve London’s current pollution problems and congested streets. The idea may initially appear somewhat futuristic, but upon closer inspection is very plausible. Obviously there are initial safety concerns, but these have been addressed with Foster and Partners tirelessly working to make the idea a reality.

What steps can we take to minimise our waste output?

Obviously many of us do not have the resources nor the expenses to pull off such grand schemes. However, there are many ways that we can minimise our waste output, below are some simple, yet very effective examples:

  1. Using reusable bags and containers
  2. Buy products that are returnable, reusable, or refillable
  3. Make use of charity shops and second hand stores
  4. Reducing unwanted mail. The average American receives over 30 pounds of junk mail every year!
  5. Buying in bulk rather than individual packages will save you money and reduce waste.

Countries who are the most eco-friendly

For quite some time now, Germany have been the strongest eco-friendly candidates, just look at Hamburg for a shining example. Germany has implemented a concept where you are essentially paid to recycle. Great, right? The way it works is that supermarkets have implemented machines that exchange recyclable goods for money. Most 500ml bottles carry a 15c deposit, whilst the 1.5cl ones carry a 25c deposit. Once your recycling bag has been depleted and your groceries bought, hand your receipt to the cashier, they will then deduct your recycling returns from your bill. Neat, huh? Data recently published by the OECD claims that 65% of Germany’s municipal waste was recycled and composted in 2013. Out of the 353 million tonnes of waste Germany produced in 2012, almost 153 million was recycled, 34 million went to energy recovery and 11 million was incinerated.

Germany aren’t alone in their pro-green endeavours however. Sweden separates their newspapers, metals, plastics, electric appliances, light bulbs and batteries. The newspapers are turned into paper mass, bottles are melted down or reused to create new items and their food is composted, becoming soil or biogas through a chemical process. Many of the trucks that collect these items run on recycled electricity, biogas or reused cooking oil.

Countries struggling to become eco-friendly

Despite these ecological advances, countries such as China, Bangladesh, Slovakia are struggling to make their mark on this ecological-friendly era. China’s most notorious contributor is air pollution, their smog clouds infamously making recent headlines. The smog became so thick that people were told to wear masks outdoors to abstain from the pollution. Beijing alone has a level of 121 micrograms per cubic metre of air pollution, which isn’t exactly great. Bangladesh are in a similar position, ranked 169th out of 178 on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). They have the worst score of all countries for air quality and also water, sanitation, biodiversity and health impacts.

Kuwait also holds a negative rank in the EPI. However, this is not entirely their fault, as during the Gulf War, oil fields were set on fire, creating massive clouds of pollution. Kuwait has even closed many of their power plants to improve air quality, though people are still suffering from the pollution. Reports claim that the effects from the polluted air have a direct link to respiratory illnesses and even cancers.

What is being done to improve these problems

Despite these statistics, these countries are trying to find ways to eradicate much of their pollution problems. China for example implemented a plan on the 1st of January 2015 to phase out smaller, less efficient and less sustainable operations. Companies are now also required to have properly sized processing areas that matches their capacity.
In August 2016, the UK achieved some positive goals regarding reduction in their biodegradable waste output. The following statement and statics were taken directly from DEFR:

UK Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW) sent to landfill has continued to reduce and in 2014 was 8.7 million tonnes. This represents 24 per cent of the 1995 baseline value. In 2013 this figure was 26%, which comfortably met the 2013 EU target (no greater than 50 per cent of the 1995 baseline). The UK also comfortably met the 2010 target. There is a further EU target to restrict BMW landfilled to 35 per cent of the 1995 baseline by 2020.

The main concern we have to tackle now is to generate less waste to begin with. With innovative forward-thinking countries like Germany and Sweden, the future will grow to look brighter and greener. Of course there is no immediate solution to these problems. Though, if all of us began to recycle and put a little more effort into separating our waste, our health, general living and most importantly our planet will thrive.

Plus, without our planet, our survival rate would diminish quite rapidly.

Author: Ben Taylor

Eco Warrior! Recycling Buff! Owner of James Waste Management LLP, UK recycling over 90% of waste.

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