Tuesday, May 19, 2009


To establish a more sustainable economy, two things need to be worked on: standards and recycling. Standards can be set to limit or prohibit the use of substances that are hazardous to our health or to the environment. Furthermore, it's important to think about what happens to products after their useful lifetime. Too much waste is dumped in oceans, or ends up in landfalls or in the atmosphere.

Recycling should be encouraged as the best approach, followed by safe storage as the second-best alternative.

Much of our waste is already recycled in one way or another.

Households commonly sort their waste in different waste bins, typically using one bin for the disposal of general waste and another bin for recyclables such as bottles, jars, cans, paper & packaging. The glass, metal, plastic and paper is then reused by industry to manufacture recycled products, but the general waste is typically buried at landfalls.

While it's good that an increasing number of items are recycled, the aim should be to recycle all waste. To achieve this, it makes sense to distinguish between organic and inorganic waste.

Inorganic recyclables have been collected separately from general household waste for ages. Examples are trucks collecting building material after demolitions and service stations keeping people's old batteries and used motor oil, for safe disposal. Such recycling can be encouraged by adding fees to the sale price of items such as bottles and jars. After accounting for the cost of disposal, the fees will then be refunded at collection points where the items are returned after usage. It's time to consider collection of inorganic household waste as well, in a dedicated waste bin, so that all such waste can be processed and reused by industry.

Furthermore, recycling of organic waste can also be encouraged by using a dedicated waste bin.

types of wasteMost households only use one or two different waste bins, one bin for general waste and another bin for recyclables such as glass, cans, paper & packaging.

Instead, it makes a lot of sense to distinguish between organic and inorganic waste. Consequently, households could have two types of waste bins, one for inorganic waste and one for organic waste such as paper, cartons, kitchen waste and garden waste. 

Many people already compost such biowaste in the garden, but all too often such biowaste disappears along with the general waste in the general waste bin. As displayed on the picture on the left, analysis in Waikato, New Zealand, shows that about half of household waste can consist of kitchen waste, soil and garden waste.  Such waste now ends up on rubbish tips, where the decomposing process leads to greenhouse gases such as methane. And all too often, farmers also burn crop residues on the land, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases.

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