Electronic Waste

E-waste (aka electronic waste) is the name given to waste nearing the end of its useful life cycle. E-waste accounts for over 70% of the toxic waste disposed of each year. This is 20-40 million metric tons of waste disposed of worldwide. With many electronics containing precious metals, it is estimated that $100 million of gold and silver end up in a landfill every year. The majority of e-waste isn’t waste at all, but then again how much of all of our waste is actually ‘waste’?
Electronics have been an integral part of globalization. With computers came access to a web of knowledge and cell phones and unending access to people across the globe. There are few things that hold us apart besides geographic area. The speed at which electronics become out of date is almost instantaneously as you buy them. This is not to say that they are suddenly obsolete but there will always be a better product out there. Over 60% of adults in developed countries own a cell phone with 87% of them being internet users. We can compare this to developing countries where 20% have cell phones and roughly 40% are internet users. When thinking about this in a large scale, that’s a lot of technology. Where does it all go?
Think about the phone you own…how long have you had it? A year, 6 months? When does your provider say you are due for a new cell phone? I know mine says about every two years I can upgrade mine for a lower cost. Rarely is there anything wrong with the devices we use but companies want to have the best technology on the market to compete with other companies. This goes for all sectors of technology like computers, software, televisions, DVD players, and the old VHS players to name a few.
The trail of e-waste is not a pretty one as with much of the waste we are discovering. Nearly 80% of electronic waste is sold to places like China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan to be taken apart by cheap labor. People in China have been paid $8 a day to take apart electronics to save precious metals and other material to be refurbished and sold again. Electronic waste is highly toxic when taken apart and these workers breathe it in every day. Places doing this in China have been recorded as the highest rates of cancer in the world. With thousands of pieces of electronics thrown out each year, it is inevitable that these conditions will get increasingly worse.
The sad facts are that there aren’t many great ways to get rid of electronics. The truth of the matter is it all becomes obsolete to us. When are looking to e-cycle, research the companies you are about to turn over your products to. See where there connections lie and what they do with the electronics once you give them up. Make your electronics last longer by doing upgrades on the systems you have and take special care of them to insure they last longer. The longer they last, the less often you are throwing them away. Consider the number of electronics that your family needs. Does everyone in the family need a phone or can you get away with one or two? The same goes for computers, tablets, and e-readers, how many do you really need or are they a commodity item? When you refuse to buy more and you recycle responsibly, you not only are saving the impact on the environment but you could improve the quality of someone’s life too.



Industrial Waste

Industrial waste is any time of waste that is a byproduct of industry or unwanted material used during the manufacturing process. This is not hazardous waste but can still be toxic and harmful to the environment. These wastes come from businesses, manufacturing, farming, and mining. Some types of waste include paper by-products, clay, stone, organic and inorganic matter, plastic, food products, concrete, and glass. It is estimated that 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste is discarded per year. This does not include air pollution added to our atmosphere or the carbon dioxide given off from the burning of fossil fuels.

Due to the nature of the global economy, it is cheaper and easier to have resources shipped from one area to another in bulk. With this comes an unending trail of waste to follow it. The largest concern with industrial waste is clean water. Many pollutants go into the water as some industries use water as a source of energy and as a dump site for their unwanted goods. The important thing to know about all industrial waste is that it can be prevented. It may not seem like as big of an issue as the factor farming or the global plastic use but it is all linked back to this notion that everything is industrialized.

The positives or future outlook on global waste is promising as companies are beginning to see the need for waste water treatment facilities or man-made swamps to filter out contaminants. There have been promotions for on-site recycling facilities, composting, and alternative resources used that are easier to dispose of. Though this does not solve the issue of industrial waste, it certainly decreases the effects it has on the environment. The only way to reduce this waste completely is to not support industrial products, reuse what you have or buy secondhand to decrease demand for goods, and to promote the well being of the planet by advocating for waste management at industrial sites.




Food Waste

A monumental problem we face is a growing population. With a growing population comes questions of how will everyone be fed? At the root of the problem, it is not merely a production problem, rather, it is a distribution problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, one third of the food produced is wasted per year. That equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of waste! It costs industrialized countries $680 billion and developing countries $310 billion annually.

Knowing the excessive cost food waste provides, where does it come from? When we look at poorer countries we see a common theme…storage. In warm, humid climates it is hard to preserve food and with it comes rodents, parasites, and fungus. With a lack of refrigeration, means of transportation, and unsanitary markets, poorer countries lose food before it reaches the mouths who need it. Packaging practices are unlike those in countries like the US. There is no vacuum seal, flash freezing, or perfectly stacked crates. People make due with what they have like wicker baskets and nets. Though not all of this food is thrown away, it is wasted before it gets to the consumer.

In industrialized countries there are problems late in the supply chain. The first problem is the aesthetic appearance of the food. Do you ever wonder what happens to the rest of a ‘baby carrot?’ If carrots are blemished, bent at the incorrect angle or are not bright enough they are thrown away or turned into our ‘baby carrots.’ It is estimated that 30% of all carrots produced are discarded due to their physical appearance. Industrialized countries consume processed food in a much higher amount that developing nations. This creates waste from cutting food like potatoes for french fries, trimming scraps for perfectly proportioned meals, and byproducts of cooking or extracting foods.

A major cause of retail waste comes from poor dating, too hot or cold holding temperatures, and lack of staff to rotate foods. There is a common misconception that the best before date is the date to toss an item. It is actually indicating the peak quality the manufactures feels the food is at. After that date they cannot insure the quality is at their standards but by no means states that the food is trash. High income countries see food as a commodity rather than an energy source. Massive amounts of money are spent on bulk products, specialty food, and excess food for a home. Household waste becomes a huge factor as families over buy food, fail to prepare the food to store it longer, and toss food they do not like or find pleasing.

If one fourth of the food wasted was saved, it could feed 870 million hungry people in the world! With 40% of the world’s people working in agriculture and employing the highest percentage of jobs worldwide, you would think that there would be immediate changes made so these people benefit from their trade. Though many workers in developing countries see their food rot before them, the 1% of farmers in the US rarely see the food they make go to market. so what can be done?

In low income countries, there needs to be education and technologies made available to preserve food. Improvements and investments in marketing facilities can boost outcomes and benefit a growing population. In high income countries, awareness is key. With buying options in the hands of the consumer, it is crucial the consumer knows what is happening to their food supply if they are not growing it themselves. Improvements in purchase and consumption planning can reduce waste in homes and at stores.

Waste is not only seen in the food produced. It spans across the use of resources to grow, ship, and store the food, energy used to grow the food and the capital put forth to invest in the food. Between all these modern issues we are creating global warming and climate change through our food system.

To me it seems like an oxymoron. Food is a staple, organic, basic need that we all have but yet we throw so much of it away. If there was care and appreciation for each hand that touched the food, the energy from the sun, and the nutrients used to put forth a life giving product, there would be no waste. Going forward, make it a priority to know where your food comes from and how much energy it took for it to get to you. The next time you see an ‘ugly’ potato in the grocery store, keep in mind you may be the only person willing to buy it before it is thrown away.



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