The waste we live with

After indulging a bit too much over the year-end holidays, some of us are now on the January no-drinking-detox-lose-weight-diet. Other than our gout, the best indicator of our over-indulgence is the rubbish we leave behind.

If you’re anything like me with student children and their friends, you’ll find empty cans, bottles and cartons everywhere; stacked up behind your back door and giving the impression that you’re a home of alcoholics or running a non-licensed bar from your backyard.

Then there’s the remnants of braais, the Christmas turkey, ham bones, chop bones, potato peels and, always, the dreaded lumpy custardy firm-filmed spoon sticking over-brandied trifle. Not to mention the wrapping paper and cardboard which is in exponential proportion to the amount of presents that were handed out by one-and-all.

For middle-income families, the end of the year holiday’s are a time of, mostly, joyful giving. But it’s also a time of waste.

I think of how waste management company employees must dread the week after Christmas. There’s lots of stuff, and with our South African penchant for over-drinking, it’s heavy waste.

When I was young glass bottles had value. We took them back to the corner café and received some coins for our effort. Whatever happened to deposits? Glass is still recycled, but not reused. It’s crushed and then re-melted at huge expense to make more glass—which is then used to drink more beer.

We recently advised a client who runs a game lodge in Botswana to insist on guests only bringing in cans or plastic bottles. The reason: cans are lighter and can be easily crushed. They take up less room and are therefore cheaper to transport.

This counts when one’s staying at a camp sight or a beautiful self-catering guest house in the Groot Marico. The waste starts intruding on one’s view, while unwanted food waste, no matter how good we are, accumulates. It begins to rot and smell, which brings in the flies.

Following COP17 us greenies hope that South Africans will recycle more and use less. Using less has to start at the supermarkets. Personally I’m a supporter of my local butcher, not only because he’s a lekker guy and once took me down to look at his biltong cupboard, but because he always asks “how many people do you need to feed” and cuts the meat accordingly and uses less packaging.

My daughter one day came home with the most beautiful deboned chicken thighs purchased from Pick n Pay. They looked great—until I noticed that every single one had been individually shrink wrapped and then packaged in polystyrene and shrink wrapped again.

Eish. The waste, the hassle, the labour, the cost. Why? I’m quite happy if you just throw it into a bag, like my butcher. Pick n Pay is not the only supermarket guilty of over packaging. Woolworths, in my personal opinion, is worse. They go to endless lengths to box, wrap, sleeve, vacuum pack and seal a simple piece of rump, which it looks good but to me it has negative value.

The irony is that both companies are pushing their environmental credentials.

Neither are they giving me a Christmas present which I can unwrap. Joyfully. With surprise and then put the packaging carefully away for my daughter’s birthday in April. Who cares if the wrapping has snow-covered trees and snowmen on it?

For our home, the paper, metal, glass and plastic we generate is not really an issue. We do our best to reduce our home’s output—we separate it and then either take it to a recycling depot or leave it for the trolleypreneur to collect and resell.

Although some of us manage our dry recyclables very well, very few of us do anything about our food waste and it remains one of the biggest problems.

In 2010 the department for energy and climate change in the United Kingdom measured the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of food waste. On its own—when considering manufacturing, production, transport, etcetera—the CO2e footprint of food waste was about 4 000kg/tonne, or four times its weight. When dumped into a landfill that waste generates an additional 365kg of CO2e.

If the municipalities can trial dry recycling why can’t they trial wet-waste recycling. Gardens need compost. Why not do something and avoid the malodour of Christmas’s past?

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