Waste in 3 numbers:

1. FOOD WASTED: Between farms, middle-men, markets, and consumers, half of all food in the US is wasted (SOURCE: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal).

2. EVEN MORE FOOD WASTED: In the United Kingdom, 20 million tons of food waste is produced each year (SOURCE: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal).

3.  LAND WASTED: Reducing unnecessary surplus food supplies in the developed world would free up one fifth of the world’s agricultural land – five times as much as would be needed to eliminate hunger and malnourishment worldwide (SOURCE: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal).

The Solutions:

Fortunately though, the solutions to the waste problem are some of the easiest.  Reduce, reuse, recycle – the three R’s of environmentalism – is probably the most well-known environmental slogan in history.

Reduce – given how much waste comes in the production process of just about everything we consume, the best way to reduce waste is to just reduce our consumption.  So yes, this means things like more fuel-efficient cars to reduce gasoline consumption, but it also means fewer cars, sharing cars, and keeping the ones we have for longer.  It means bringing cloth bags to the supermarket instead of plastic bags, it means turning our heaters down a bit in the winter and looking into things like mini-split air conditioning in the summer – or better yet, incorporating Passive Solar principles in the design of any building.

Reuse – the word “disposable” should be removed from the English language; “planned obsolescence” should be tossed down a deep well and never heard from again.  Ideas like “Cradle to Cradle” should take their place and be taught in school starting in kindergarten.  Frankly, Europeans and Americans have a lot to learn from the developing world on this one.  We have been deeply impressed in our travels to see how many goods, from clothing to cars to computers, which have been discarded as waste in Europe and the US live long second lives in the developing world.  The poorest have a lot to teach the rest of us in this regard, and it is time to get learning.

Recycle – there is perhaps no other area of environmental activism which so brings out human creativity as recycling.  Take soda cans, just one of the thousands of waste items which can be recycled.  In Mexico, we saw belts, necklaces, even entire chairs made from soda can tabs.  In Guatemala, we met a Canadian who had a business for a while making solar home heating systems from used soda cans painted black and stretched along a roof with a small fan on one end – a system which worked perfectly and cheaply, even through a Canadian winter and which was almost entirely made from waste.  In Zambia, we bought small kerosene lanterns made from old cans, and in Brussels we attended a workshop on how to cut a soda can to make a small alcohol-burning stove that burned hot enough to boil water.

In the end it all comes back to the same thing: just don’t waste.  Make a list before you go shopping and buy only the food that you need, make portions appropriate to how many people will be eating, and store the left-overs to be eaten later, buy raw ingredients rather than processed foods, the list of small actions that would make a huge difference could go on and on.

Waste simply shouldn’t exist.  If we all could just be more careful, and value more dearly the things we have, we could go a long step towards making a better world.

And one last thing.  If waste is a subject close to your heart, you should definitely read the book Waste by Tristram Stuart. It’s the source for the numbers and quotes above and it’s a great read if you’re looking for some easy ways to change the world – or if you just like getting angry…

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