Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What a waste

Waste has been in the news for the past few days. If it hasn't made the headlines, it has at least been on NPR. I heard a report first on food waste, appropriately enough, on the day after Thanksgiving. It would seem the average American throws out 600 lbs. of food a year. They tracked people who did not consider themselves to be wasteful. Among the top items to be thrown out were fresh fruit and vegetables. It seems that these are people who like to think they eat healthy, so they buy fresh fruit and vegetables, because that is what healthy people eat and then wait for them to go bad and throw them out. Part of the problem it seems is overbuying. The other is the days on which people shop. It seems that I, who consider myself to be fairly thrifty, shop on the best days. They advised people to do their shopping late in the week. The other item was the portions that were prepared. Plan your meals and only prepare what you are going to eat. That doesn't work so much for me, since the people they were working with have an aversion to leftovers. I, if I am cooking more food than I will eat in one sitting, do it on purpose so that I will have something that doesn't require preparation the next day. Roast chicken and meatloaf, just to site a couple of examples of how I try to get out of cooking meals every day, especially on work days. I am in a minority, but I kind of like leftovers. If I am going to cook, why not make something I would be willing to eat 2 days in a row.

The other item was consumer electronics. We are being overburdened with electronics that are designed to wear out, something the manufacturers admit, so that we will go out and buy the replacement. The real problem with the electronics is disposal. Once you make these things, you have to find some responsible way to dispose of something that is chock full of hazardous materials. Some environmental groups are trying to get the designers and manufacturers to plan their products so that the components can be recycled. The reasoning is that companies would save money on the production of these ephemeral consumer goods and would at the same time be a lot friendlier for the planet. Needless to say, these businesses are very resistant to the idea.

If you think about it we throw things away constantly. I know that my office is far from paperless, though most of my work is done on a computer. We receive packages all day long, and the boxes that they arrive in have to be disposed of. Then most of the products in the box are in boxes, quite often with blisterpack on the actual item in the box. Germany has very strict packaging laws, and vendors there would never get away with the excessive and difficult to dispose of packaging solutions that we embrace in this country.

It seems like a pretty simple equation. Stop buying so much, and stop buying things you don't need, stop buying products with the life expectancy of a mayfly. It seems simple, but after a lifetime of exposure to my fellow creatures and several years in retail, common sense never prevails and so we are going to continue to waste things until there is nothing left to waste. The only things left on the planet will be waste. Humanity had better hope the space program moves ahead with plans to start settlements on the moon and Mars, cause we're gonna' run out of room down here.