Writing Wednesday 030: You Are Bill Gates…
“You are Bill Gates, and you are trying to solve the world’s problems one at a time. What’s the first thing you are going to tackle? Why?”
Today, and for the next 5 weeks (030–035) I will be utilizing 642 Things To Write About — by the San Fransisco Writers Grotto for writing prompts. My daily prompt is the quote above. A powerful and meaningful question. Let me address it.
A lot of people talk about solving the world's problems, or making a difference, only to get overwhelmed or make an excuse. “I don’t have the money…” “Where do I start?” Any number of limitations on our thinking can stop us from acting. People think “if I was as rich as Bill Gates, I could do something.” Ok, as the introductory question stated, financial resources are no limit, we are Bill Gates — but what do we tackle first?
When I read this question, I almost wanted to avoid it and pick another writing prompt. It’s heavy and requires real thoughtfulness. I was feeling lazy. But, that’s exactly how I knew I had to answer it. I let my mind go in this direction when I’m deep in thought — not about being Bill Gates, but about what the major project I would like to tackle would be, so I have my answer.
We are, as a species, wasting too much. Food, water, energy, and time. Entire lives are wasted, both human and animal. Making a change in this area is a monumental endeavor, and one of our era’s greatest challenges. I have seen first-hand grotesque wastes of food, and resources — it has really bothered me, but until now I have remained silent. I’m glad I flipped open to the random page and was asked this question today. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some theories and ideas. I also have many more questions.
What I’ve seen in a lifetime in hospitality is shocking. Thousands of pounds of perfectly good food being thrown in the trash, without even consideration of an alternative. Perfectly good, sealed packages of food or other goods being thrown out because there was no contingency plan for extra items. Rather than have to deal with them, it’s just easier to throw them out. I have let the outrage within me go somewhat dormant, but now recalling all the times where I have witnessed wrongs I am again emotionally charged about this. It is wrong.
Food waste, in particular, is a perfect example of laziness and the path of least resistance leading to disaster. John Oliver did a recent piece on food waste and brought up the tragic fact. In the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, almost 40% of food produced is wasted. I believe it. I’ve seen what should be considered crimes take place with waste.
So why would this be the first thing I’d tackle if I was Bill Gates and had the financial resources to take on anything? Because it’s senseless, it’s unnecessary, and it’s wrong.
The waste is not just the food itself that ends up in the trash, it goes deeper than that. The energy from the sun, the water, the nutrients in the soil, and the human labor just to get the food ready for market. Then there is all the transportation, fuel and again labor for that product to go from its origin to the next phase. Sellers, vendors, and food service establishments. Here again, there is wasted human labor, time, and the actual food itself. When a product is somewhat blemished or disfigured and does not meet the visual appeal standards of a grocery store chain, it is rejected and often completely wasted. When a cook at a restaurant makes the wrong dish or forgets to put the sauce on the side, this error plate will sometimes make its way to a hungry dishwasher, but often it will make its way to the trash can. When a caterer has extra food from an event, this does not go to a homeless shelter, it goes to the landfill.
Those are just in professional food service settings too, but in people's homes, the waste cycle continues. Over purchasing, and underutilizing food — allowing decay and delay to spoil countless products. Every minute required of the farmers, transporters, cooks, and consumers time, in regards to that wasted item, also goes to waste when we allow that food to be enclosed in a plastic bag and sent to a landfill to ineffectively decompose. Our soil could use the compost at the bare minimum. Also, hungry, and hurting people throughout the world are suffering when there is a major error in the efficiency of our systems. Some food has become spoiled and is no longer edible, but there is still a massive amount that is able to provide life-giving sustenance to another human.
How can we address food waste specifically? How would the billions of Bill Gates in my hands make a difference?
This is a topic that needs many solutions. What it needs most is more people giving time and energy to finding and implementing solutions. Not enough people are focusing on this, and it is overlooked or ignored. That is the main issue.
I would create a company that was specifically designed to solve these problems. I would lobby congress, and the senate, with the same aggressive fervor you see from special interest groups looking after their companies profits, only with the sole intention of progress. I would invest money in funding legislation in many areas.
Teaching about food utilization and waste in schools should be mandatory. By the time someone is an adult wasting food is almost automatic for many people. Have to catch them while they’re young enough, before they build years of bad habits and behaviors.
Also, legislation should be in place for restaurants, grocery stores and caterers to record and quantify their food waste. Tax incentives could be given to those on the leading edge of using this data to prove their efforts to reduce their waste.
I would also push for compulsory composting facilities within cities and rural areas. These facilities would be tied in with home composting bins provided by the municipality, the same way they provide trash and recycling bins. It gets picked up on a certain day, and they leave you a clean one for the week. That compost then goes to the mass composting facility, and then to the farms that provide the food for the municipality once it is ready.
These are some ideas, but they’re not all the ones that I have. This piece will be a starting point for further writings. And I intend it as a starting place for some actions I will take in the future to help drive change in the area of waste. Beyond just food waste too.
Focusing on food waste is a tangible way to reduce waste. But, there are other kinds of waste that I would work to address. Plastic, metal, and glass recycling can all be improved too. Here in Texas the VAST majority of plastic, glass, and metal ends up in the trash. This can change.
If I’m Bill Gates, and I’m trying to solve the world’s problems, waste is the one that I would work to solve the most. Reducing waste makes everybody richer. Waste is money, time, and energy in the landfill. Waste might take the form of food or a material, but it is human lives we are wasting. Somebody made that, and worked to produce it, and it’s not even being used. That is wrong.