What to do with #1: Waste and Poo

About cities, plastic soup, poo, and practical tips on waste

August 14, 2013

Last two weeks I was in New York (USA) and Quito (Ecuador). Both are big cities, counting over more than 8 and 2 million people respectively. Due to the large amount of people, cities are generally combined with waste, pollution, crime, inequity, poverty, and just filth. Cities can be dirty and not attractive at all to live in. But they can also be a bubble of creativity, innovation and fun. 

Yet, especially in such big cities as New York and Quito, we constantly deal with waste, whether we like it or not. Garbage is dirty, filthy, and not something one wants to touch with bare hands if not necessary. Indeed, garbage and plastics are a huge problem to the environment in cities as well as outside of it.

Just look at the plastic soup: a ‘soup’ of plastics and micro plastics (micro beads) being twice as big as the USA and drifting in the pacific ocean, from 300 Mile out of the coast of California to 100 Mile before the coast of Japan (see map). The plastics come from land since they are flushed by industries and cities into rivers, canals and harbors which are connected to the sea. The micro plastics are combined with toxic substances and sea animals perceive the soup as food. For instance, turtles are eating the plastics which are toxic and very harmful to them: they can die earlier and have difficulties with producing healthy off spring (see green sea turtles affected by plastics). By eating seafood which has absorbed or eaten this plastic soup, it permeates into our food chain. As such, this plastic soup can have serious negative effects on our health too. The Plastic Soep Foundation tries to tackle this ‘plastic soup’ problem.

 

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Source: Wikipedia, 2013

But waste and plastics are not necessarily always negative. Indeed, waste can also be profitable and useful! Just look at the municipalities which recycle and reuse waste for other products. Furthermore, some go through a bin to find anything which can be used to make money with (e.g. plastic bottles for recycling). And some use it as art, such as large fish made from plastic bottles on Otafogo beach of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, made for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.  Finally, it can also be used to generate energy. For instance, if you have enough organic garbage and poo (from pig, poultry, cow, and possibly even human) to fill a biogas plant, you can generate gas & energy and you can use the leftover (the slurry) as a high quality compost for your crops (for more on this, check Bioslurry & Biogas).

And what can you do with waste and plastics? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don't waste any waste: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as much as possible. Your community may not always recycle everything, but try it anyways by applying # 2 of these suggestions or even better, try to persuade your community to recycle more.
  2. Up- and down-cycle: for instance, old and broken wood pieces of a floor can be used for making a wooden table. A chair can be taken apart and the bits and pieces can be used for other products. This way of using products is often referred to as Cradle to Cradle.
  3. Reduce plastic bags: try to avoid using plastic bags at all times. Use your backpack to do the shopping. And if not a backpack at hand, reuse a plastic bag.
  4. Stop wasting food: buy enough food for the week(s) to come, but be careful with fresh products. Especially throwing away meat is just such a waste since this animal died for the purpose of being on your plate, not in the bin.
  5. Re-use clothes, appliances and products and recycle them or give them to organizations and businesses which are specialized in recycling them.
  6. Throw a ‘reuse-recycle’ party: invite all your friends to come with stuff they don’t use anymore, and swap with each other. It's fun!
  7. No-waste week: try a week of having the least possible waste: you can do more than you think!
  8. Use waste to make art: for instance, try using plastic bottles to make a statue like on the Brazilian beach. But maybe better try something smaller than that first.
  9. Use kitchen garbage (eg. fruits and vegetables) (and maybe your/animal poo) as compost to fertilize your crops, to be recycled by your community, or to use it to fill your biogas plant.
  10. Get inspired by ‘Different Solutions’. There you can find all kinds of creative and innovative ideas of recycling, reusing, and reducing products.
  11. Share your ideas and comments here, so more people can enjoy your creativity and innovative solutions to waste.

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