We are Trashing our planet….

I went to see a screening of the Jeremy Irons movie Trashed on Thursday, as the ‘finale’ event of the Waste Watcher’s challenge.

It makes for sombre viewing, and really should be compulsory viewing for each and everyone of us.

I don’t expect many people really stop and think much about rubbish, but when you do, you realise that it really is EVERYTHING.

Every single thing we buy will end up as waste (yes even the stuff we eat….) at some point. And I think for most of us, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Here are some fairly alarming Rubbish facts:

  • In the UK, it is estimated we will run out of landfill by 2018
  • In the last 150 years, not only has the amount of rubbish that we produce spiralled, but also the type of rubbish that we produce has changed-and a lot of the rubbish that we now produce CANNOT be broken down by nature
  • Estimates for the number of plastic bags used a year are between 5 BILLION and 1 TRILLION
  • Fish in the North Pacific Ocean could be ingesting plastic at a rate of 12,000-24,000 tonnes  per year
  • Researchers estimate that there are over six kilos of plastic for every one kilo of natural plankton in the Pacific Ocean
  • Studies done in the North Sea revealed the some types of seagull averaged thirty pieces of plastic in their stomachs
  • The UN Environmental Program estimates that over a MILLION seabirds and more than 100,000 mammals, die every year from ingesting plastic debris
  • Burning rubbish (the obvious answer when landfill runs out) results on the release of compounds called ‘dioxins’ in to the environment. These are scary things. If you want to read more, have a look here

You only have to Google “pictures of animals harmed by plastic” to come up with images like this:

An albatross chick with a stomach fill of plastic items

An albatross chick with a stomach fill of plastic items

A turtle eating a plastic bag

A turtle eating a plastic bag

And it’s not just the animals that our rubbish effects. There are numerous studies linking congenital defects (birth defects) in babies, and increases in cancer rates in association with the methods we use to ‘manage’ our waste.

We are lucky here in the UK, in that our rubbish is actually managed. In many parts of the world, there are no formal waste collections, or even proper dumps, and people end up living like this:

rubbish dump

This is scary stuff people. Really really scary.

And it feels kind of overwhelming.

BUT there is hope.

San Francisco has been leading the way as one the first ‘zero-waste’ cities in the world, and their recycling rates are currently at about 75% (in the UK, ours are about 40%), and there are al least 20 towns in Italy that have done the same, and have achieved similar recycling rates. And do you know what? In the process they have SAVED MONEY, AND CREATED JOBS. Kind of a no-brainer don’t you think? (Mr Cameron, if you are reading…)

So it CAN be done. And it really really really NEEDS to be done.

In the film, Jeremy Irons talks about the planet being at a tipping point. And it is. But I think the groundswell of public opinion is also starting to reach a tipping point. As more and more people become aware of the issues that our endless need to consume, and waste, is causing, then more and more people are starting to act.

Lot’s of people post the question, whose problem is rubbish?
It is EVERYBODY’S problem. And EVERYBODY needs to be part of the solution-from the designers, to the manufacturers, to the retailers, to you and me-yes you and me. I knowit can seem overwhelming, and it is easy to think that you putting your bottles in the recycling bin will do nothing to help. BUT IT WILL.

There is a great page on the Trashed website that is called ’10 SMALL THINGS’, and this is what it says “Improving the waste situation often seems an impossible challenge. But nobody is expected to save the world on their own! By making small changes in our lives, together we can all make a huge difference to the world around us.” And it goes on to detail the 10 Small Things that each and every  one of use can do to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

So please please please: buy less, buy wiser, waste less, recycle more. AND SPREAD THE WORD.

PS. If anyone wants to organise a screening of Trashed in their own community, you can request one via the website here.

20 thoughts on “We are Trashing our planet….

  1. It’s horrendous and heartbreaking – we do what we can, limiting our family’s use of plastics (actually, all waste products) and reusing items and then taking as much as we can to the recycling center. We shop at second-hand stores, by locally grown foods, and compost too, but we still produce about a bag of waste every other week, and we make sure to deposit our waste in the appropriate bins.

    It seems impossible, though, to get out from under this garbage mentality.

    • All each of us can do, is do what we can, and keep on trying. Trying to waste less, trying to make do more, and trying to get the message across. Sounds like you are doing a great job.

    • A bag every other week is a great effort, eM – keep it up. We’ve tried everything we can to reduce waste, but there’s just SO MUCH PACKAGING on things. Things are getting better, but there is still plastic food packaging that can’t be recycled (some pasta packets can – others can’t – go figure).

      I’ve been seeing our economy as a waste-based economy for a while now precisely because so many products are designed to break to keep the hamster wheel turning (watch “Pyramids of waste” – it’s available online and is a real eye-opener when it comes to light bulbs, nylon stockings and Epson printers).

      Bring back: Refillable milk bottles, pennies for returning bottles to newsagents etc. Ban: Non-recyclable plastic, designed obsolescence – new products should be able to be broken down into their component parts and made into something else. All this before we destroy the remaining beauty on this fragile planet.

      PS I’ll watch “Trashed” as soon as I can. Thanks for letting me know about it.

      • I’ve often pondered whether bringing back the whole bottle deposit thing would work to improve re-use/re-cycling rates.
        Unfortuanately at the end of the day it all comes down to economics, and while everything except black plastic CAN be recycled, there may just not be a revenue stream for your particular council for some things, eg pasta packets etc. BANES council next door to use, recycles everything, except black plastic, whereas Wiltshire is still lagging behind a little.
        San Francisco and the other towns that have lead the way in the zero waste revolution, have however proved that improving waste management and aiming for zero waste not only SAVES money, but also creates jobs. Win Win. So why aren’t we all doing it?

  2. Have had a blog brewing in my head for a few days about what role ethics, economics and convienience play in how we spend and why (do people got for responsibly sourced or environmentally friendly or affordable options). Im finding it a bit of a minefield and Im sure Im not the only one. It seems no matter how and what we spend our hard earned ££s on we are being made to feel guilty about our choices.
    I totally agree with you on this waste issue, but until more councils, governments and countries decide to do something about things, it will remain ‘inconvienient’ for the masses. Why cant councils reward people for recycling instead of making it difficult for them to do it ? Our council decided we now have to pay for our green waste to be collected (when the council use it to make compost!), if they are gonna do this, them why cant they reward us for recycling paper, cardboard and plastic?
    They wont recycle a lot of stuff, so it goes to the incinerator (privatley owned) and then the power generated gets ‘sold’ back to the council!
    People need incentives not punishment!
    Grrr, sorry mate, another rant from out of nowhere. :o(

    • Hi Jo!
      It is indeed a minefield. I haven’t heard of a council charging to collect green waste-seems a bit crazy, when they should be encouraging people to recycle, and as you say, they are making money from the compost.
      I am told it is all to with waste streams and contracts.
      I agree with you that it if it is ‘inconvenient’ then people won’t do it. Until it is made more expensive to send your waste to landfill than it is to recycle it (and that goes for businesses as well as households) then I guess a lot of people won’t do it. It would be nice if there could be a ‘carrot’ to incentivise people to do the right thing, but if there is no carrot, then maybe we need a bloody big stick..?!
      There are no magic answers, and we will never please everyone, but I really feel this is something the government needs to take a stand on. They should grow some balls and stick their necks out for once-tiny steps like introducing a charge for plastic bags (as they have in Scotland and Wales I think) could make a HUGE difference, but they are so scared of upsetting anyone, they do nothing.
      Grrrr again.

  3. I don’t know what the answer is. I think our local DC makes it really easy for people to recycle just about EVERYTHING (Hello Cherwell!). We can put in foil, tins, any rigid plastic, paper, batteries, tetrapaks, card(board) and all food and garden waste. Glass, small electrical items, polythene and light bulbs are all recyclable in lots of sites locally. (I hope I’ve got that right now I’ve sent them a link to this post..!) And we don’t even have to sort it!! That means the council get paid less for it, but really, how much easier could it be for residents?

    But what do ‘people’ do? Whinge that their landfill wheelie bin only gets collected every other week. Complain that their (free) food waste caddy for the kitchen might smell if you fill it with leftover cooked food and then don’t empty it for days. For some reason they feel rats and foxes are more likely to be attracted by food waste in the garden waste bin than the landfill bin (?) and that’s a problem.
    Half the people seem to just chuck everything in whatever bin is being collected that week.

    I agree there should be a charge for carrier bags. Cashiers still offer bags when they’re supposed to wait until they’re asked. People say ‘yes’ to a bag when they are asked, for a bottle of nail varnish. Is 10 minutes of convenience really worth 500 years in landfill?
    Grrr a third time.

    • It is everyone’s responsibility but some people just don’t seem to get that this WILL affect them, it is already affecting them, and it WILL SERIOUSLY affect the lives of their kids and grandkids. I am not sure what the answer is, and it can be overwhelming, but all we can do is keep doing OUR bit, and encouraging others to do theirs.
      Great to know through this blog that there ARE so many people who do care, and who do do their bit (and a lot more besides).

  4. I couldn’t bear to watch even the trailer for that movie after seeing the opening image. And that photo in your post of that waste mountain above people swimming.. It is completely overwhelming, and it is all the fault of our society which has an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude to waste, and the fact that companies are allowed to manufacture products with absolutley no responsibility as to their end-of-life disposal, and our fault of course, for buying those products and not protesting.
    In a little outback Australian town I once lived in, there was a dump which had been last used in the 1880’s or so. All that was left was iron bedsteads and kettles, and smashed crockery. It was a fun archeological site to wander around in. But imagine our landfills in 100 years’ time. All that plastic will still be there. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

    • I think that is one of the major problems Jo-today’s rubbish cannot be broken down.
      Do try and watch the film, I thought I would be in floods, but the end does give some hope, and something for us all to work towards.

  5. Here in Wales we have to pay 5p for every carrier bag we use which has increased the number of people carrying fold up /reusable bags in their handbags, cars etc. I very rarely see one use carrier bags now and that’s a good thing. It’s a small step being made by the welsh assembly but it seems to be working.

    We as a family are trying to reduce our waste and use of one-use plastic. Since we have mentioned it to family I know they are looking at their waste too.

    I do think that individual families etc reducing their waste and living more sustainably is a good thing however it does need to be addressed on a much larger scale – councils, government etc for it to have a decent impact. Lets hope someone will be brave enough in those circles to take a stand.

    • I really can’t understand why the English government is not planning to introduce the same 5p charge for carrier bags. Such a simple measure, and as you say, it can have a really big impact. This governemnt seem to be afraid to actually DO anything for fear of upsetting anyone.
      As you say, it needs everyone to do their bit, governenment, business and us as individuals.
      Maybe if enough pressure is put on the government and they see that at grass roots, people really want change, they will pluck up a bit of a courage to make a stand…

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