By Dr. Mercola
The featured documentary, Unwasted: The Future of Business on Earth,1 presents the alluring ideal of zero waste as a key element of the sustainable business model. While some may shake their heads thinking this an impossible task, it’s worth remembering that mankind had a zero waste lifestyle up until about 100 years ago.
There were no plastic wraps around the food you bought, and virtually every scrap, be it fabric, paper, wood, or metal, was repeatedly reused; creatively refashioned into new products. The same cannot be said for our modern way of life…
“Businesses around the globe produce nearly as much waste as they do product — almost 110 million tons annually in the US alone.
Washington State spent more than 500 million dollars on waste disposal, recycling, and composting in 2009. But what is the real cost to business and the community?” the film asks.
The film was produced in 2011 by Seattle-based, green facility maintenance firm Sage Environmental Services2 in partnership with PorterWorks,3 a sustainable solutions company.
It features interviews with industry leaders, policy-makers, activists, scientists, and business professionals from the Pacific Northwest region who are leading the charge toward a “less wasteful, more profitable and environmentally sustainable society.”
In it, you’ll also learn practical recycling tips that anyone can implement. As stated in the film, nature does not create waste. Humans (and more specifically modern man) are the only animal on Earth that creates waste that nature cannot process…
And we’re doing it at a staggering rate. Discarded trash is clearly one of the most pressing environmental issues facing us today.
Plastic Waste, Everywhere…
Americans produce more and more garbage every year. According to Deanna Carveth, Projects Coordinator for Snohomish County Solid Waste Division, featured in the film, it took only 12 years to pack one 56 acre landfill with 3.5 million tons of garbage…
And that’s just one dump site in one US county. Landfills, once filled, become unusable for anything else. Plastic pollution is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face, as it’s now entering the food chain. Petroleum-based plastics are designed to last forever.
So you have products for short-term consumption packaged in materials that survive for centuries. Virtually every molecule of the six billion pounds of polycarbonate tossed into landfills each year stays there forever. Only a very small percentage of plastic waste is remade into durable goods.
According to Greenpeace, the world produces 200 billion pounds of plastics every year. Ten percent of that ends up in our oceans. It’s not just marine animals that are being affected. You, too, are ingesting minute levels of plastics every day, and being exposed to a potentially deadly mix of plastic chemicals and additives, including:
- Cancer-causing PFOAs
- PBDEs, which cause reproductive problems
- The reproductive toxins, phthalates
- BPA, which disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen
Bottled water is perhaps one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries there is. Americans consume about half a billion bottles of water every week! The environmental ramifications of this practice are enormous. Becoming more responsible about how we discard our waste is not just a “nice idea.”
I believe it is an absolute necessity. But perhaps even more important than recycling responsibly, is to remember to reduce and reuse first, as much as possible.
In the case of bottled water, the answer is not to buy bottles that boast about being environmentally friendly because they reduced the size of their caps. The answer is to reduce our use of bottled water in the first place, which is easy to do, considering the fact that most bottled water is just filtered tap water.
Rays of Hope…
The film describes some of the strategies currently being employed to extract value out of waste materials. For example, Dean Kattler, regional Vice President of Waste Management, shares how his company is able to turn some of the waste into renewable energy by utilizing landfill gas.
They’re also using a brand new process called plasma gasification. The gas created can in turn be used as an ingredient to create a number of other fuels. The byproduct of this process is an inert black, glass-based material, which could potentially be used for road material.
Sweden is a country worth taking note of when it comes to successful waste management. According to recent media coverage,4,5 Sweden, which uses waste incineration to create electricity,6 has depleted its waste stores and is actually “importing” as much as 80,000 tons of refuse from Norway each year. Swedes are so meticulous about recycling that only four percent of Swedish garbage ends up in landfills.
Composting Makes for Good Waste Management of Organic Material
A tremendous amount of food also ends up in US landfills. Organic material accounts for about 30 percent of all residential and commercial waste. Turning this organic waste into valuable compost is an obvious solution, both for individuals and companies. I have been composting for more than two years now, which has benefited my organic garden. If you’re new to composting, but want to give it a try, you can learn more in my recent article “Composting Made Easy—Even for City Dwellers.”
I live alone and eat over 90 percent of my meals at home. I grow a large portion of my food, such as sunflower sprouts, collards, celery, fennel, parsley, kale, peppers, and over two dozen fruit trees (mangos, loquats, figs, cherries, oranges, kumquats, peaches, papaya, tangerines, banana, and limes. I also have dwarf kiwis, blueberries, mulberries, wonder berries, goji berries, moringa, and a few dozen aloe plants in which I eat the gel from one leaf a day). I recycle virtually all of the kitchen waste into the compost bin.
Used cooking oil is another major organic waste stream. Here, biofuel companies are coming to the rescue, giving restaurants and other cooking facilities an opportunity to turn this spent grease into a usable low-carbon fuel product.
What You Can Do Right Now
Our “disposable culture” has left a trail of destruction, in terms of both environmental and human impact. There is no one single solution to the waste problem. But you can do your part by taking steps to reduce your waste, recycle, and repurpose what you can. The average American produces 4.5 pounds of garbage each and every day. Surely, most people can find ways to cut that down considerably, without going through too much trouble. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Compost your food scraps and yard waste: A simple bin in your backyard can greatly cut down on your landfill contributions while rewarding you with a natural fertilizer for your soil. See “Composting Made Easy—Even for City Dwellers” to learn more.
- Reduce plastic use: Purchase products that are not made from or packaged in plastic. Use reusable shopping bags for groceries. Bring your own mug when indulging in a coffee drink — and skip the lid and the straw. Bring drinking water from home in glass water bottles, instead of buying bottled water. Store foods in the freezer in glass mason jars as opposed to plastic bags. Take your own leftover container to restaurants. Request no plastic wrap on your newspaper and dry cleaning. These are just a few ideas — I’m sure you can think of more.
- Recycle and repurpose what you can:Take care to recycle and repurpose products whenever possible. This includes separating paper, glass, and plastic for recycling. Give clothes or gently used household items to charities, and frequent second-hand stores instead of buying new. Make use of online sites like Freecycle.org that allow you to give products you no longer need away to others instead of throwing them away.
Here are some ideas for what to do with more hard-to-recycle items:
- Appliances: Salvation Army or the Steel Recycling Institute can help you out with these (see recycle-steel.org).
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs: Your local Ace Hardware, Home Depot and IKEA store will recycle them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lists recycling facilities across the US.7
- Eyeglasses: Your local Lion’s Club or eye care chain may collect these for redistribution to people in need. Many eyeglass stores offer drop-off boxes as well.
- Tennis shoes: Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program8 turns old shoes into playground and athletic flooring.
- Choose reusable over single-use: This includes non-disposable razors, washable feminine hygiene products for women, cloth diapers, glass bottles for your milk, cloth grocery bags, handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, an old t-shirt or rags in lieu of paper towels, and so on.
- Assist Recovery: Return deposits on bottles and other plastic products, and participate in “plastic drives” for local schools, where cash is paid by the pound.
- Support local “greening” efforts: Support legislative efforts to manage waste in your community; take a leadership role with your company, school, and neighborhood.