Author – Ngozi Onuzo
Climate Wise Women
Article made in submission for the Green Week and Climate Online Campaign
The Waste Challenge
Waste is nearly inevitable, given that it is the remnant of a used product; it is a damaged or defective product; or it is a by-product of a production/processing/packaging process. Waste can be solid, liquid, or gaseous, depending on the process and nature of product from which it originates. All forms of waste have their challenges, but one of the greatest waste products man has had to grapple with in the last couple of centuries is gaseous waste. Significant amounts of gases are released into the atmosphere from all kinds of processes, particularly Greenhouse gases that cause warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, a.k.a. global warming.
Dealing with waste when it gets into the environment is a big global challenge, but an even bigger challenge is how to deal with waste before it gets into the environment. For instance, many car manufacturers have had to make complete turnarounds in order to design engines that will consume less fuel, generate less waste, especially CO2, and then keep the waste from entering into the atmosphere. Managing materials before they become waste is a tough task, particularly because there are so many components or parts that make up a new product, and for the sake of mass production (which is possibly the only viable way of producing to meet demand currently), such components cannot be made to suit every kind of products-to-be.
Most producers of waste do not think about the implications of waste, or its final destination because they believe the burden of dealing with waste would be transferred to waste carriers/handlers. Unfortunately, this is a wrong ideology. The burden of waste first lies with the producer or manufacturer, before the product even gets into the hands of consumers. The nature of wrapping materials, waste disposal methods and information on the product, as well as the size of the product and wrapping materials are considerations that need to be factored into the production process. These factors also have an impact on users’ choice of disposal of the used product (waste).
What Can I Do?
There are a myriad of easy solutions that anyone in any part of the world can do, not only for the benefit of the environment and generations to come, but also for personal benefits. For instance, taking less servings or portions during a meal reduces how much food is wasted. There are actions that have somewhat become commercialized ways of dealing with waste that guarantee a huge difference in the environment if everyone partakes of these.
The Popular Three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Upcycling
These three waste management strategies are collectively known as the waste hierarchy. Reduction has got to be my favorite and the easiest of all three, as it requires the least effort and financial cost! It is also the best savings method as it reduces the amount that would have been spent on managing waste if it were produced. Also, if everyone in the world was conscious of how much they consume and acquire, and take measurable steps to cut down on what is not necessary, then the waste discussion will be completely different.
Needless to say, the waste discourse is so, largely due to the acquisitive nature of most humans. As more and more people move up the economic/financial ladder, there is a natural tendency to acquire some more, or use more than they previous did, just because they now have access to more.
How does the reduce campaign/strategy affect climate change? In innumerable ways! The reduce strategy is the best way to keep materials or products from getting to the waste bin and the landfill. There’s a huge feedback loop that is created for every purchase decision a consumer makes, hence, a decision to use less keeps production at a considerable level.
The reuse waste management strategy is also great, but not very easy. There are not too many things produced that can be reused because most manufactured goods are purpose-built, and may not easily fit other uses. For instance, food wraps are meant to protect and keep food fresh. Once opened or torn, they cannot be used for other purposes and need to be trashed. Nevertheless, a shipping box, food jar, glass bottles, etc. can be reused or repurposed with little to no extra effort.
The recycle waste management strategy is the toughest among the three Rs. Recycling is the process of converting waste products or materials into new, reusable materials or products. Most materials that enter landfills are not destroyed or damaged beyond use or reuse, hence there is a lot of potential in recycling products to other products or goods. It is great to know that many companies and businesses have sprung into action to deal with the issue of waste through recycling – collecting, separating, disinfecting/rinsing, crushing, and transforming trash to other products or purposes. Examples of pacesetters in Nigeria who are taking up the challenge of dealing with waste properly are WeCyclers and RecyclePoints.
Recycling is an important part of the manufacturing chain and the waste management cycle, and there are lots of opportunities to harness in this growing industry. Dealing with waste within this arena prevents further depletion of raw materials, protects biodiversity, create jobs, increases awareness, and in the long run, reduces the impact on the environment and ultimately, climate change.
The newest commercialized waste management strategy is Upcycling. This is the use of materials that may otherwise be discarded as waste to create new materials or products. Upcycling is a new, fast-growing industry in many parts of the world, that is especially changing the way fashion and art are progressing. Though upcycling is popular in many societies, it has been commercialized only in a few countries. Upcycling could involve converting old (used or unused) materials such as clothes to new ones, often adding additional, sometimes non-conventional materials to give the product a new look. For instance, old men’s t-shirts can be made into dress shirts for children, adding lace or other fabric to complement or upgrade the existing material. Examples of top upcycling companies around the world include Terracycle, Phoenix Commotion, Re-Tread Products, Inc.. etc.
Other Easy Steps You and I Can Take
On the very small scale (probably the smallest and lowest ranking), individuals can participate in all three elements of the waste hierarchy in the fight against climate change. Practical examples of how you can be part of the solution:
- Use less paper, plastics and non-degradable materials – e.g. carry a water bottle around which can be refilled, instead of buying plastic bottles of water. Have a mug in your office or often-used space, etc.
- Gather plastics, bottles and other reusable materials in a box or bag at home or in the office before disposing. Many individuals and recycle businesses have to pick through landfills to get materials that can be recycled in order to make a living. Make it easier for them to get the recyclates (raw materials sent to a recycling or recovery plant used in the production of new products) – this saves time and energy in sorting and you become part of the waste management chain.
- Be conscious of your actions when buying products, using them, and disposing them or the waste from them. Ask yourself if you can convert that product to another use in your home or office, and if not, how to dispose of them properly.
- Tell others. Hold yourself and others responsible for your/their actions. Some people just don’t know, others do not care, while others have grown lazy or feel helpless amidst the waste challenge.
- Donate where there is financial need; get involved when there is an awareness campaign or march; share social relevant information.
- Add to this list and forward it, blog about waste, carry out research…do something!