Waste: 8th deadly sin of the 21st century

Entra aquí para la versión en español.

I believe that many if not all of us had to bare our mom/dad saying: “There’s plenty of people with nothing to eat. Finish your feet cake…” (at least that’s what it tasted like back then). For those of us with no sense of authority, the answers varied among “well, go and give them THIS then!”, “they’re not going to eat it anyways”, and “but I’m full”, depending on our grade of insubordinance.

What I’m going with this is not that we did wrong as kids. We did have a point: “why bother eating this if it’s wasted with me because *insert explanation*?” Of course, we had a point, not the judgement nor the maturity, that’s why we had the spoon of spinach flying to our mouths by force anyways. But the thing is, I want to take advantage of me being a 22 year old grandpa who doesn’t get shampoo on his eyes to try and analyse this seizing/wasting of resources topic.


1.The poblem

I firmly believe waste is common practice of virtually anyone reading this. But why do I find it intresting to talk about it? Without trying to guilt trip you, I searched for a few data on 3 types of waste which, apart from the cause, serve to get a sense of the magnitudes we reach as a community when we extrapolate our daily habits as individuals. And yes, this may include glutony, mom!

Disclaimer 1: I’ll write a few data. If you find they’re too many to pay attention to, you’re welcome to skip the bullets and just try to scan where I want to go with them.

Disclaimer 2: I looked for this data, the references are on the very last section.


1.1 Water waste

I didn’t do the full academic report, because it’s basically common sense (and lazyness… I got lazy as well). But I search in the Virtual Water Information Center. According to them, in Mexico:

  • Most of water waste goes to the toilet with a 36% of the usage (how much do you think is only water with more “liquids” in it?), then we have 31% in personal hygiene (while we sing “Show must go on” in the shower), and 33% goes to other diverse activities.
  • The calculation of water losses by day and caused by the deterioration of sanitary infrastructure is as follows:
  • A dripping faucet wastes 80 liters of water per day. A fine stream of ater, 1.6 mm in diameter, loses 180 liters per day. One thicker, 3.2 mm in diameter, loses 675 liters per day.
  • A toilet in poor conditions loses 5,000 liters of water a day.

Isn’t this shocking? I knew the damage was strong, but I could never thought of these numbers. And this is not even a thing of the “lifestyle of the rich and the famous”, the past week I saw the cleaning lady hold a conversation with the running faucet to almost its max for a few minutes. I started to feel uneasy and was 10 away of telling her to just stop it, but then she went back to washing.

The shelfish may think: “whatever, that’s only in Africa, India, and such…”. But on the same source I was able to read Mexico is a country with relatively low water availability. For example California, in the US, also has had some surprises in the drought area. Mexico is mostly an arid and semi-arid country, and today we only have 22% of the water we used to have in the 50’s. In other words, we can’t afford that attitude.

1.2 Food waste

This is very interesting, because we’re not necessarily guilty of the numbers of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) I’m showing here. Although we must not forget that we always carry some collective responsibility.

  • The global volume of total food waste for the edible part is equivalent to 1.3 billion tons.
  • The total volume of water used every year to produce food lost or wasted equals the annual flow of the Volga River in Russia (250km3).
  • Agriculture is responsible for most of the threats to endangered plant and animal species controlled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is serious.
  • Domestic composting can potentially divert up to 150kg of food waste per household per year (there are approximately 30M households) for them to not end up in the local waste management system.

OK, this give us and idea and within this last point, I went to another link that said a little more about the main factor of food waste in Mexico. As it turns out, our surprising 37.26% of waste is loaded mainly in the value chain and consumption habits. In order for us to know what our role is in this problem, let me state that the latter includes:

  • Over-maturity (we did not eat it in time).
  • Excessive purchases (overestimating our bellies).
  • Inadequate handling of the merchandise (we dropped the tacos).
  • Battered / poor product (all of the above, I suppose?)
  • Mixture of product in good condition with product not suitable for consumption.

So taking care of the personal waste of food does have an impact on the surprising figures I listed.

1.3 Electronics waste

You have SURELY heard someone casually saying: “… sinc I’m going to change my cell phone, I don’t care about it.”, this either before or after destructively messing with it. People, electronic gadgets are worth literally gold even when they stop working! And if they kept working, I’m sure if we offered there would be many people who would snatch the cell phone out of your hand, no matter its conditions.

  • Recycling 1M laptops saves the energy equivalent to the annual usage of 3,500 households.
  • Only 1/8 of electronic waste is recycled.
  • There are more cell phones than people. And their growth rate is 5 times bigger than that of population.
  • For every 1M recycled cell phones: 16,000 kg of copper, 350 kg of silver, 34 kg of gold, 15 kg of palladium are seized.

It’s hard to imagine people are actually experimenting to make them explode, break, or see how long they last in the blender/microwave. This data doesn’t even consider the materials lost in production (more water, chemicals, fuels, etc.) in vain.


2. Get to the point, Santiago

Now, waste is defined as: “residue of what is difficult or impossible to take advantage of or left unused due to poor management.” To make things easier, I clarify that when I talk about waste I mean the part in bold.

I could sit and preach about everything I think we do wrong on a daily basis. But right now I do not feel like writing a book, the blog is fun enough. Also, I think the vast majority know their weaknesses. But the message I really want to convey is that waste is basically not making the most of the resources, and a lot of waste can be avoided without making significant changes in our lifestyle; achieving significant improvements together. So I think it’s about time we get it on the top of our minds, so that eventually we ignore it while we still protect it. You know, make it a new habit.

A few years ago I read a well-known phrase from Gustavo Petro that I want to share (I do not know who he is, but I searched his phrase and it came out that it was his):

“a developed country is not where the poor have cars , But where the rich use public transportation.”

I thought it was really powerful, and I think it’s something we should aspire to at every opportunity that comes along. We must always seek to make efficient use of our resources. From time to even napkins. We have to get rid of stuff like “It’s futile, it will not make a difference to anyone”, “what’s one more ___?” or whatever we use to justify what we know is keeping us from being our best self. I’m not saying we’re always wrong to say it. But it is very difficult to really have the full perspective of what our actions cause. So I find it better to stay on the safe side and make more sustainable habits. Everything to a certain extent affects us anyway, so lets get to work! I’ve witnesses countless times people turning to see Europeans aspiring to be like them, but they didn’t reach that status overnight. They were encouraged by small habits that gradually became part of their culture. That is why now, while in Mexico City people lose 14 days of their life yearly in traffic, we think: “In Holland they use bicycles, and they move faster than we do.”

The data I used for this first entry are nothing more than a few examples of the most basic causes of this problem. But don’t limit it to food, water and electronics. We must think of the potential we can harvest with little to no effort put. You know, we have the moral duty to take advantage of what many others would kill to have (I insist, from time to even napkins). The times when humanity thought of unlimited resources are long gone. It is time to wake and catch up.

3. Specific actions

I decided to make this first blog entry about this topic because I was inspired by the @RevolucionRefill movement: #UnSoloVaso #RevolucionRefill. It basically proposed something as simple as refilling the same cup at the Pa’l Norte music festival. Reuse. the. same. cup. Something THAT simple can have an outcome of 170,000 people saving literally tons of plastic waste, one of the worst commonly used materials worldwide.

So following their example, and focusing on promoting instead of scolding, here’s a few ideas I could come up with to contribute with little grains of sand, which as we’ve learned, amount to a whole beach. Yes, I know many still don’t grasp the potential we hold on our daily activities. But I think we should at least do it for the direct or indirect benefit you and the community can get from it. And, why, not to have our conscience at ease with our example and ecological footprint as well? Maybe you’ve already heard some of them, but you can scan them anyways just in case. On the other hand, you’re more than welcome to contribute your own ideas in the comments and spread the word.

Water

  • Close the faucet/shower when not in use.
  • When bathing, use water to soak and rinse. But not to shave or think what could have been said to that bully at age 7. Dermatologists tend to recommend cold water while bathing. But if you don’t like it, get in the water even if it is cold just with your head, get in full body once it’s warm, and then shut the water once wet. Reopen and close whenever you need to refresh the sponge, rag, soap, etc. I think we will realize that you don’t need the water running 80% of the time.
  • The same applies while brushing your teeth and shaving.
  • In your household toilets, put bottles of water in the load if you consider that you have too much water left over in the discharge.
  • You can leave the handle alone for a while if you only went number 1. I mean, it’s your house anyways.
  • Men, use the urinal and not the toilet in the public restrooms.
  • Beware of possible leaks.
  • Make sure that the keys are properly locked so that they do not leak. If the seal is damaged, put something to accumulate the water that drips (the acumulation will surprise you).
  • Use buckets and sponges — not hoses — to wash the car.
  • Notify the neighbor for leaks that he may not be aware of.
  • Reuse the plastic bottles, and try to finish their complete content as well.

Food

  • Order a little bit less and not more food than needed. (you also save money)
  • Avoid ordering to go or home delivery. The packaging and plastic bags are forever gone most of the time.
  • You may also ask for “no straw/napkins/cutlery/bag” if they’re not needed.
  • If you’re not going to eat it, try asking them to remove it.
  • Take good care of your food and don’t buy it too close to their rot date. If you buy and throw it 2 days later, that’s on you.

Home Appliances

  • For the PC or laptop, consider upgrading part of the hardware or software instead of buying a new product. Stretch the life of the product instead of renewing it every 6 months or every year
  • Remove the batteries from the device, they may have to be recycled separately.
  • Search for the recycling facilities in your community. It is better to give away the gadgets to those who can take advantage of them than throw them. BUT some even pay for what you would just throw away.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a new phone, it’s wring to just spoil the one we have.
  • Turn off lights, televisions, computers, consoles, tablets. Everything that is not used in the moment.
  • Read the instructions to know how to protect them against voltage variations and against premature wear of the battery, to avoid fried appliances.

General

  • Uber’s great and all. But I prefer carpooling to work or school. You can take turns on driving and save gasoline, emissions, traffic, loneliness, boredom, stress, etc. I’ve been doing it for a while and I can tell you it has a lot of benefits and almost no sacrifice. I could never quit it now.
  • Bring your own plastic or reusable bags to the supermarket. And ask for no bags if they’re not needed. In Europe, they charge per bag to encourage this.
  • Dispose of the trash (including cigarette buts) in the appropriate place.
  • Use shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, normal cream, lotion, among other things, to the extent that they do their job. It is useless to spit half of the toothpaste that we first put in the brush to make it look like the ad.

4. Conclusion

Well… there’s a lot more, I’m sure. Join in the comments and teach use your own ideas and habits! There are a bunch of creative micro-solutions out there that don’t take much of an effort.

I hope you liked this entry and maybe learned something valuable from it. I’ll be checking on your comments and criticism (both welcome) and I’ll continue writing about this type of deal.

Love,

Santi.

To know more about the author’s intentions with his entries, read the first entry: What is the intention of this blog?

References:

Food

http://www.fao.org/news/story/es/item/196450/icode/

http://www.fao.org/3/I4655S.pdf

Water

http://www.agua.org.mx/index.php?option=com_content

http://www.agua.org.mx/el-agua/agua-en-mexico

Electronics

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling

http://earth911.com/eco-tech/20-e-waste-facts/

Traffic

http://www.elfinanciero.com.mx/nacional/por-plantones-y-marchas-cada-capitalino-pierde-al-ano-242-horas.html

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