When I was a child we used to have a “dustbin” the size of today’s garden bucket. It was collected once a week and it was not always full. Today we have three large wheely bins. One for garden refuse, one for recycling and the third for general rubbish. Most weeks (fortnightly for the first two) they are full.
This is an issue which will get increasing attention. Here in Australia, a population that has dutifully sorted their refuse into three bins has been told that it all gets recycled. Turns out most of it has been sold to China and there are question marks as to how much has gone into Chinese landfill.
Local councils are now scurrying to figure out what to do. So what is driving the growing pile of rubbish we throw out each week?
It has struck me that most of what gets thrown out these days is packaging. And much of that packaging is for food. Consider the double packaging of most processed foods. Breakfast cereals and muesli bars are generally in packaging inside packaging. Which is particularly interesting when you consider that the preservatives in many processed foods means that mould will never grow on them.
Packing inside packaging is a reasonable red flag in terms of whether what is inside is real food or not. Equally, why do we need 12 mini packets of potato chips inside a big bag? And yes, I appreciate they can be for lunch boxes. But this gets back to the previous point about real food.
The other big waste is food itself. In a world where many still do not have enough to eat each day, a new report has found that Americans throw away one pound (about half a kilo) of food every day. This is not only a waste of food, but also a waste of resource and money.
The research suggested that 30 million acres of land and 4.2 trillion gallons of water are used on food that goes uneaten each year. Perhaps surprisingly those who ate a healthier diet tended to throw out more food. This is likely a reflection of fruits and vegetables going “off” or becoming over ripe and being discarded. On the plus side, fruits and vegetables can go into compost and are the pin up boy for recycling.
There is (in theory) the option of putting vegetable and fruit waste into a compost tumbler and then on the garden. Organic waste will breakdown naturally anyway albeit this may be complicated by being wrapped in plastic.
There is another aspect to this which is food thrown out by supermarkets because they have reached meaningless “use” or “best” by dates. Yet public health has convinced governments that they be mandated. I had the personal experience of a supermarket being unable to sell me cheese because its best by date was the previous day. No doubt it was thrown out.
There is no basis to use by or best by dates. They are made up and I suspect are very conservative due to legal reasons. Also, given human nature, it is profitable to sell more product with short use by dates as people forget and then throw out food past the mythical use by date.
I don’t have the answer to this. But what we are doing at present is not working. I am sure there are entrepreneurial people who can solve these issues. But unless we pressure governments and question public health edicts – nothing will change.
As always – it is up to us.