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Cutting waste - saving the planet without destroying economies

By Valerie Yule - posted Thursday, 7 February 2008


It is pathetic to hope that forests can be preserved (see here) while demand still increases for forest products and for clearing forests for farming - including for the expanding crops of biofuels. (For example see here) It is an odd idea that preserving forests can provide sufficient offsets to allow carbon emitting to continue in what is becoming the lucrative business and regulatory nightmare of carbon trading.

Preserving forests to help forestall climate change can only have a hope if demand simultaneously falls. This is only possible when the affluent stop increasing their waste, and the less affluent stabilise their increasing populations. This article is how to stop producing waste, and the challenge of redirecting economies so that growth in waste is no longer essential to prosperity. While we attend to more efficient carbon-free production of energy (Davies, New Matilda), our wasteful use of so much energy should be reduced, not be allowed to continue to increase.

The growing movement for individuals to become more environmentally careful in their life-styles focuses on measures such as less energy-wasting light-globes and re-using plastic bags. Our range of wasting and their economic consequences are still to be thought out.

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Waste can be defined as anything turned into rubbish before it needs to be.

About half of everything produced involves waste at one stage or another. Most waste involves carbon emissions at one or more stages in its life - in the production of materials to make it, in the manufacture and in its distribution, in energy required to use it, and the energy and emissions in either recycling or turning it into trash.

A Time-Life double-spread once showed a family of four surrounded by the food it ate in a year. We could do the same, surrounding a family by the waste it threw out in a year. “Taking out the trash” is now the staple chore for discord in American households.

The waste that accounts for so much of our carbon emissions includes the many excesses that are a part of our life-style - things that we have come to take for granted. Even small actions such as 150 million people all filling electric kettles to the top for one cup of tea produce tonnes of carbon emissions. Even consignment to landfill produces emissions usually wasted.

By looking at specifics we can take immediate preventive action which can deliver results long before other projected measures to reduce emissions may start to show effects.

Types of waste

Waste of water adds to carbon emissions, insofar as fossil fuels are involved in distribution.

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Waste of power. Products that use less power now receive attention with R&D, and star systems to indicate energy ratings of products.

Waste through destruction by vermin, rust, mould, and inadequate preservation methods, add indirectly to greenhouse gases and are an enormous problem.

Half of the world’s food is estimated to be wasted. In Australia, about 2.2 million tonnes of food waste is generated each year from food outlets and homes. Most of it was edible. “Dumpster divers” eat well. This food waste has involved carbon emissions in its growth, soil fertilisers, processing, distribution and cooking.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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