For every 2 tons of stuff we buy from the grocery store, 1 ton is wasted. About 20% of all food that enters kitchens goes to the bin. And we cultivate an area the size of India, Kazakhstan and Mongolia just to waste everything.
Let’s admit it! This is crazy!
But Scotland is one very concerned country about its own footprint and has tens of initiatives going on around waste management. From clothing and books to crops and food, Scotts are dedicated to reduce the amount of waste, to reuse it as much as possible or at least turn it into new forms of useful materials. And “it’s not even that hard!”, they say. Should we believe this?
To begin with, Scotland still has a lot to do around recycling. The street recycling selection bins are far from having good results. People still don’t use them efficiently. It looks like less than half of Scottish household waste is being recycled. Yet, it’s still a big progress: it went from just 5% in 2000, to 45% in 2016 (the UK average). I’ve been in Edinburgh for five days, two of them being at the Scottish Resources Conference 2016 (5-6 October) with Nick Payne and James Skinner, and I could notice that sometimes it’s still hard to recycle because of the lack of special containers on the streets.
But what if recycling is already a concept of the past… Let’s talk about up-cycling: the process of using a wasted material for a totally new purpose. In other words, you are introducing it into a whole new life-cycle. For example, one of my ex-clients, Romanian start-up Upside-Down, turns truck tarps and street banners into wallets and bags and other cool stuff. I’ve been having this wallet for three years and it still looks like new.
And then there is the concept of circular economy. The mother of all. The big-big plan of saving the planet.
The concept of circular economy begins from the fact that there is no such thing as landfills in nature. Wildlife has a rhythm that involves no such thing as waste. Everything is in a natural clean cycle where nobody throws away stuff that cannot be absorbed or reintegrated somehow into the original cycle.
But how can we adopt this strategy since we throw away stuff like cars, phones, beds, food and much much more?
Well, there might be a solution. As the matter of fact, many solutions:
Some of the technical products can be repaired and used a bit more. Or they can be recycled. Or, even better, disassembled and transformed into other products. Food waste can be used to produce gasses and heat. Crops can be used to produce biofuel. We can reutilise almost anything with the current technology. Should I mention that this is not only cost effective, but it also brings more revenue.
Sweden is one country benefiting from the revenues that can come out of waste management. The industry it has built around recycling and re-using materials is so well-developed that, for several years, the country has been importing rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Not to mention that less than 1% of Swedish household waste got to the landfill since 2011.
The figures of the otherwise wasted materials are somewhat motivating for the Scotts to go in the same direction. Around 7 million tons of food waste comes from households and each family throws away in the bin food that is worth around £700 a year. And sometimes, food gets wasted even before people are able to throw away: 1 out of 4 potatoes never even reaches the market because of the transportation conditions.
But why all this fuss, anyway?
Well, the truth is that we are overwhelming the planet right now. In 2016 we’ve hit the overshoot day on August 8, which means we’ve been using more resources than the Planet can offer since that date for the rest of the year.
“We are now using 1,6 Earths”, as Mathis Wackernagle, President of Global Footprint Network, states. And he goes on saying that “it must become possible to live on a one-planet-economy”.
Otherwise, we’ll have to make that voyage to Mars possible sooner. Any news on that, mr. Elon Musk?