Tag Archives: landfill

Campaigns urging us to ‘care more’ about food waste miss the point

The Conversation

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What if you had somewhere quick and easy to put food waste, instead of being blamed for wasting it? Gary Perkin/Shutterstock

Bethaney Turner, University of Canberra

Environmental campaigns often appeal to our emotions: they ask us to care. They implore us to feel a sense of connection, empathy and stewardship, and then to alter our behaviour as a result.

In relation to food waste, this could mean anything from not pouring oil down the sink so as to protect ocean habitats, to keeping methane-emitting organic waste out of landfill.

About one-third of the world’s food goes to waste. We know that this squander is bad for social, economic and environmental reasons, yet still it happens.

But my recent research (publication pending) which looks at how food surplus is managed in homes, found that in many households, food wastage is not due to people being unthinking, unskilled or uncaring over-consumers. Instead, it is a product of our (largely reasonable) hierarchies of care: we actively prioritise the health and well-being of our family and friends.

For example, leftovers may go to waste because of health concerns about freezing and reheating certain foods, or the need to eat them within particular time frames. Many parents with young children (in line with parenting and dietary advice) want to give their kids a wide variety of fresh, nutritious food. This means not feeding them the limp veggies lurking at the bottom of the crisper, and avoiding meat that may have crept past its use-by date.

As well as feeling a strong obligation to their family’s immediate concerns, many people I survey and interview are frustrated by a lack of appropriate infrastructure to help keep food waste out of landfill. As a consequence, campaigns that focus on mobilising people to “care more” about the environment may actually be preventing – or at least limiting – the focus on more urgent problems.

Blame game

The implication that waste results from a lack of care reinforces a neoliberal approach that blames consumers. This is evident in the most well-known food waste reduction campaign, Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW), which originated in Britain and has been imported to New South Wales and Victoria.

The NSW LFHW website implores us to care for food, in turn promising that we can “waste less food, save money and our environment”. The suggested strategies include meal planning and leftover recipes. These could be useful for some people, but many consumers are already using these techniques. They know how to reuse food and consciously attempt to avoid overbuying.

In the few research studies that have looked in detail at the passage of food into and out of homes, all found that householders carefully monitor and manage fresh foods. Generally speaking, people aren’t adding organic waste to landfill through a lack of care for the environment.

Many of my participants said they want to reduce waste but find it difficult to buy small amounts of fresh food from supermarkets, where such products are often pre-packaged. Many people were also concerned about over-packaged items, such as half a cauliflower wrapped in huge lengths of cling wrap.

Food enters the waste stream not because we don’t care, but because we actively prioritise other things such as our family’s health, and because of authorities’ failure to provide infrastructure to address the problem.

A failure of infrastructure

While care for the environment is rarely front and centre in people’s decision-making about food waste (being secondary to health considerations), my research suggests that people will happily use schemes to keep food waste out of landfill, as long as they are simple, efficient, and mess-free.

Such schemes could include regular collection of the waste by local councils, including provision of receptacles that fit into kitchens and minimise mess and smell through the use of biodegradable bags (as used in a recent successful trial by Lake Macquarie Council).

Community composting initiatives, commonly centred around community gardens, also have potential, as does the use of private companies, particularly for servicing businesses. In my work with households involved in some of these initiatives, all were enthusiastic about having their food waste being repurposed into compost to nourish new life.

But most urban Australian households either can’t or won’t compost at home, and this is unlikely to change no matter how much we urge the public to care for the environment.

This illustrates why focusing solely on making people “care” is unlikely to reduce household food waste as much as we would like. Instead, we must reduce food waste in landfill by providing infrastructure that drives widespread behavioural change. Put simply, we need to expand our toolkit.

The ConversationMany people already care about food waste, but they care about other things too, such as health and hygiene. By giving consumers a simple way to deal with food waste rather than throwing it into the bin, we can reduce landfill without asking people for unrealistic compromises about their food habits. To really drive behavioural change, perhaps what we need to promote is not care but the infrastructure that makes caring convenient.

Bethaney Turner, Assistant Professor in International Studies, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Why you’re almost certainly wasting time rinsing your recycling

The Conversation

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Your recycling doesn’t have to be sparkling clean. Monticello/Shutterstock.com

Trevor Thornton, Deakin University

Once a fortnight we diligently wheel our recycling bin to the kerb, and then probably give ourselves a pat on the back while thinking of all the useful products we have helped to create, and the resources and energy we have saved. The Conversation

Yet it pays to think a bit more deeply about what is going into each bin. Audits of kerbside collections have shown that around 10% (by volume) of the material placed in kerbside recycling bins shouldn’t be there. The most common “contamination” items include plastic bags (both full and empty), textiles, green waste, polystyrene (styrofoam) and general rubbish.

The problem cuts the other way too. Around a third of landfill waste bins routinely contain recyclables or green waste.

How many of us actually know where the contents of our recycling bin go, who manages it, and how the various materials are separated? This knowledge is a crucial element in reducing contamination and improving our recycling industry.

Bin information

A 2005 report found that 48% of Australians are confused about what can and cannot be recycled, not least because the rules and practices differ between local governments and commercial operators, and between households and workplaces.

For household recycling, we generally receive an annual flyer from the council telling us what should and shouldn’t go in the recycling bin. But there is typically little or no feedback on whether we’re getting it right.

By way of example, ask yourself (and your friends) how much time you spend rinsing out tins, yoghurt pots and other food containers before throwing them in the recycling.

The truth is that you don’t have to do this at all, because today’s recycling systems can easily cope with the levels of food often found in or on these containers. Yet many householders still do it, either because they were never told it was unnecessary, or because they were given the information but didn’t read it. Meanwhile, we waste water, energy and time rinsing our recycling.

Where’s the info?

A recent confidential report compiled for four regional councils in Victoria found that only 29% of householders had ever looked at a council website for information about recycling. Most respondents said they got their information from schools, local newspapers and bin stickers.

It is important to have clear information from the right source about which items can and can’t be recycled. One example is plastic shopping bags, which many supermarkets urge their customers to recycle by placing them in dedicated bins on the shop premises. But this might prompt shoppers to think that plastic bags can be recycled in their kerbside collection too, which is typically not the case. And, as we saw above, relatively few householders check their local council’s website for the right information.

Plastic bags are just one of the common contaminants in the recycling stream that result in large volumes of recyclables being rejected and disposed of in landfill. This comes at a cost to the council, and therefore to us.

Plastic shopping bags inevitably accumulate after a trip to the supermarket.
mtsofan/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA
Some shopping centres will have bins for recycling plastic bags, but plastic bags typically belong in the rubbish. chartphoto/flickr

Many items can be recycled, given the right equipment. To persist with the plastic bag example, these require a machine that can separate them from the rest of the waste stream.

But this doesn’t work for full plastic bags, regardless of whether they contain rubbish or other recyclables. Full bags go straight to landfill because it is too laborious to empty them, and in some cases (such as when they contain nappies) doing so poses a health risk for workers at the recycling facility.

A little consumer knowledge goes a long way – both in improving the efficiency of our recycling systems and in increasing the motivation of householders who know they’re helping to make life easier for those who process their recycling.

Disposables vs reusables

We must also have a good think, not just about the items we put in the recycling, but about which products we choose to use in the first place. Although we are bombarded with messages about reducing our use of disposable items, in some cases disposable is actually better.

It’s better to rewash and reuse ceramics instead of using polystyrene cups… but only after 1,006 uses. shadowfoot/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

One study found that a ceramic cup would need to be used at least 39 times to be a better option than paper disposable cups, and 1,006 times when compared with a styrofoam one. A plastic reusable cup would need to be washed at least 17 times to be more sustainable than paper disposable ones, and 450 times when compared with styrofoam.

So if you’re prone to losing or breaking things (or just collecting too many reusable cups!), then it might be wise to consider going disposable (or being more careful).

Then comes the issue of whether and how these disposable cups can be recycled. Most outlets now use paper rather than styrofoam cups. While the plastic lid can be recycled, in most instances the cup cannot as there is a film of a plastic waterproof material inside it.

A good plan is to ask whether your favourite café stocks cups that can be recycled. If so, encourage them to put up a sign (if they haven’t already) indicating that they use fully recyclable cups, to avoid confusion.

The key to all of this is knowledge and balance – that is, after all, what sustainability is all about.

Trevor Thornton, Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.  (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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