Raising awareness of sustainable consumption and waste reduction

Posted: 2016-04-06
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: world waste sustainable development sintija bernava india india economics economic consumption

The global population has already reached 7 billions. Population’s growing number puts so much pressure on  environment and the use of the natural resources. Our planet’s capacity is being greatly exceeded as the world’s population is now producing and consuming more resources than ever generating a range of environmental, social and economic problems.

In fact, in developed and developing countries, people are acquiring much more than what they actually need and therefore producing an enormous amount of waste. According to the  latest data of global project ’’ World Counts’’ (Denmark), every year we dump 2.12 billion tons of waste. If all this waste was put on trucks they would go around the world 24 times. We already need 1.5 planets for our consumption and waste. If nothing changes, by mid 2030s we will need 2 planets.

Major waste sources are agriculture, building construction, industry, mining and municipal areas. Agricultural waste is the largest in terms of quantity. Industrial waste is the most significant in terms of its environmental impact. In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.  

Over the last 6 years, the amount of waste generated in European Union grew by 10 % a year. Waste sources vary between countries according to their economic situation. Countries in Western Europe produce a greater share of industrial and municipal waste than those in Central and Eastern Europe, where mining is the main source of waste. Paper and organic waste make up a high proportion of European municipal waste streams, with an  increasing share of plastic.

Per capita food losses and waste, at consumption and pre-consumptions stages, in different regions (kg/ year)

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Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations

The packaging materials, plastic tape and foam need more than 100 years to dissolve if buried without treatment and can produce harmful dioxins if incinerated as ordinary garbage.

Experts estimate that if a single package weighs 200 grams, the total weight of the 20.6 billion express parcels sent in China last year will amount to around 4.12 metric million tons.
E-commerce, a sector which has recently witnessed rapid growth, has seriously challenged the business of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. Led by giants such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's T-mall.comand JD.comInc, total online shopping transactions reached 3.96 trillion yuan ($609 billion) in 2015, more than 10 % of the total retail sales volume. In 2011, online sales raked in 784.5 billion yuan, and the volume is expected to surpass 6 trillion yuan this year, according to chinabgao.com, a Beijing-based provider of market research reports.Growth in the number of parcels delivered to online shoppers also showcases the fast-growing trend of e-commerce, which provides easy access to one of the world's largest selections of online goods on one single platform and at very competitive prices. In 2014, 14 billion parcels were sent to online shoppers and the figure jumped to 20.67 billion in 2015. The volume for 2016 is expected to reach 27.5 billion, according to the State Postal Bureau.

It took China 26 years for express deliveries to reach the 1 billion mark, eight years for the figure to rise from 1 billion to 10 billion, and only one year for it to double from 10 billion to 20 billion items. All of this is thanks to e-commerce, which has propelled the rapid ascent of the express delivery companies. All these materials for express service deliveries, if carefully sorted, can be recycled as renewable resources.

It is clear that we  must stop and reverse this trend if we want to avoid being submerged by rubbish. Actually, there is no real rubbish, there are only wrongly placed renewable resources.

Canada recently pledged $2.65 billion to support developing countries’ transition to low-carbon economies that are greener and more climate resilient.

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Garbage dump in Mumbai (India)

Did you know:

- Over 60% of the trash that ends in dustbin could be recycled.
- 500 000 trees have to be cut down just to produce the Sunday newspapers each week.
- Recycling all newspapers, we could save over 250 million trees each every year.
- Glass jars can be recycled, but there are many that are just thrown away.
- 24 trees are cut down to make 1 ton of newspaper.
- Most dumps are made up of a third of packaging materials that could be recycled.
- Recycled paper produces approximately 70% less air pollution than if it was made from raw materials.
- The most thrown away products include diapers, pens, razor blades, tires and aluminium- all of which can be used to be recycled into other products.
- Plastic bags and garbage that are thrown into the ocean have devastating effect on sea animals.
- The amount of wood and paper that are thrown each year is enough to heat 50 000000 homes for 20 years.
- Recycling 1 ton of plastic can save up to 1000–2 000 gallons of gasoline.
- Recycling 1 glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt bulb for 4 hours.

According to data of United Nations Environment Program, the massive consumption of both renewable and nonrenewable resources contributes to a massive loss of biodiversity.  

Collecting and recycling renewable resources are a public welfare business in developed economies such as Germany, Japan and South Korea, which have issued strict regulations on express commodity packing. We can take their experiences as food for thought.

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People taking bath in polluted river in India.

Economic growth and increasing prosperity are the main causes of the increase also of electronic waste, according the United Nations-supported Solving the E-Waste Problem  initiative report. Up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly $19billion is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to data of the United Nations Environment Programme. 20–50 million tons of electronic waste  are generated worldwide every year. A recent United Nations study found that the United States  is the world’s biggest producer of electronic waste, more than 1 million tons ahead of China. The most of the home appliances, computers and smartphones are never recycled and only 12.5% of electronic waste is currently recycled. Calculations show that recycling 1 million laptops can save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3 657 homes in  United Stated in a year.

The current situation cannot continue. Waste is now not only a danger to our environment, for example, electronic waste from developed countries often ends up in the developing countries, where the materials are being dismantled under dangerous conditions affecting not only ecosystems but also local people health and living conditions. According to a report by United Nation Envionment Program titled, "Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources," the amount of electronic waste being produced - including mobile phones and computers - could rise over  500 %  in the next decade in some countries, such India.

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Electronic waste in Accra (Ghana).

How we use and dispose non-renewable resources is radically altering our ecosystems and the planet’s renewable resources, such as water, timber or fish etc.  
Civilization has  reached a tipping point where the quality of air and water needs to be improved, the level of production needs to be balanced and the amount of waste generated needs to be reduced.

Sustainable consumption and waste management is all about ‘doing more and better with less,’ through reducing resource use, degradation and pollution while increasing the quality of life for all.

Waste generation is still too high and rising rapidly. The situation is becoming critical. For years there has been too little actions of the global stakeholders and inadequate planning for optimal solutions as the result most of the current consumer preceptions and managed policies are not sustainable.

To initiate and drive forward economic growth together with environmental improvements all involved stakeholders need to approach environmental issues. There is no one single solution  which can be applied in every situation, but  many possibilities how we can change our unsustainable consumption habits while also improving our quality of life. Just as a small stone thrown into a lake makes big waves, as well even small actions of all involved stakeholders, contributing  to make a bigger positive difference, for example, by  preparing technical research; activating recycling industries; providing  trainings and awareness-raising actions as well promoting exchange of good practices.

Waste prevention is closely linked with improving manufacturing methods and influencing consumers to demand greener products and less packaging. A study conducted few years ago by the Technical University of Denmark,  found that in 83 % of cases, recycling is the most efficient method to dispose of household waste.

The amount of waste we produce is the result of our unsustainable lifestyle. Reducing the amount of waste at source means reducing the cost of waste management and lowering the ecological footprint.  Our current pattern of production and consumption must be adapted to minimise pressure on the non-renewable resources. Too much waste is still moved from place to place. But transferring waste from a country where environmental standards are high to country where standards and costs are lower is not a sustainable option.

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Recycling is a part of waste disposal hierarchy. It helps to conserve our natural resources like coal, oil and gas and others.  Recyclable materials include glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles and  electronics.   The  composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste: such as food or garden waste, is also considered recycling. Materials to be recycled are either brought to a collection centre or picked up from the curbside, then sorted, cleaned and reprocessed into new materials destined for manufacturing. The amount of money actually saved through recycling depends on the efficiency of the recycling program used to do it.

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These are just few facts emphasizing the importance of recycling.

- 500 000 trees have to be cut down just to produce the Sunday newspapers each week.  If we recycled all newspapers, we could save over 250 million trees each and every year.
- There are over 80 billion aluminium cans used each and every year around the world. If you throw away your aluminium can,  it takes up to 500 years to actually decompose. You can recycle aluminium over and over again, and there is really no limit to it.
- Glass is 100% recyclable and can be used again and again. Glass recycling is separated into colors because glass retains its color even after recycling.
- If we recycled all newspapers, we could save over 250 million trees each and every year.
Changing our current living standards requires us to adopt innovative and creative solutions on the way we use and dispose the products and services we own and consume. To do more with less is essential for civilization.

As consumers we should:
- Minimise the amount of generated waste.
- Reuse packaging where possible.
- Collect the waste separately for recycling.
- Look into the possibilities of composting organic matter.
- Take special care when disposing of hazardous household waste.
- Ask your municipality what they are doing to improve the local waste situation.

Producers should:
- Develop products and production techniques which minimise waste generation and waste of energy and materials, can also save the  business money.
- Limit the amount of packaging in which products are delivered and make provision with local authorities to recover this packaging for reuse.
- Encourage suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging in which they deliver their products.

Local authorities should:
- Adopt a waste management plan and allocate the necessary resources to ensure its  implementation.
- Encourage business and citizens to minimise waste generation.
- Facilitate waste recycling and recovery through providing separate bins for collection of different wastes.
- Create partnerships with industry and business to find ways of reducing waste generation.

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Waste recycle bins

Rising awareness and educating all involved stakeholders in developed and developing countries will make an important  impact on global sustainable development.

A Chinese idiom says that whoever started the trouble should end it. The express waste problem requires both careful analysis and an effective solution. We all are responsible  for our environment and our actions and  decisions affect  the world around us. It is up to all of us to tackle the growing waste problem starting the local level.  

Sintija Bernava, President, Chairwoman of the Board of the Non Governmental Organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’, Latvia (European Union).
Sintija Bernava holds  a Bachelor Degree in Political Sciences, Master Degree in Public Administration. Sintija has a long-standing experience in working for the Latvian  Parliament and Government (State Chancellery) as well implementing local and international projects.
Sintija Bernava is only Scholar of the European  Union of the  Ministry of External Affairs of India, Government of India ITEC study program "Entrepreneurship Education to Strengthen Emerging Economies" at the  Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India.

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