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Running a Temperature

The planet is drowning in waste

The planet is being overwhelmed by waste of all kinds, from plastic bags to throwaway digital devices. Even remote areas such as Alaskan beaches, often refuges for rare species, are increasingly blighted by tonnes of indestructible objects and harmful and unsightly refuse.

Plastic waste on Alaska beach
Plastic waste on Alaskan beach

The UK produces some 228 million tonnes of waste a year. In addition to household rubbish, there are growing mountains of agricultural and industrial waste, as well as by-products from power generation such as toxic nuclear waste.

The waste issue has become so serious that the government has been forced to work on a “waste prevention programme”. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is due to publish the result of a consultation this December.

The way in which leading electronic brands brazenly defy the letter and spirit of laws and regulations is a global issue. Over the last decades a new and dangerous situation has arisen as millions of digital devices are used and jettisoned after only months of use.

As electronic waste increases exponentially on a global scale, a new study from India highlights that even where rules and regulations are in place, implementing them is another matter. The report reveals that state pollution control boards and implementing agencies have failed to put any systems in place in the two years since the rules came into force.

The way in which companies evade regulation in India is naturally as true in other countries, including Bangladesh, China and Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria which have become dumping grounds, often from richer states, spawning an escalating e-waste crisis.

Short Circuit, a wide-ranging report by the Gaia Foundation, documents the scale of electronic waste on a global scale. It says that what we see as “re-cycling” is in fact turned into “down-cycling”, and can give people (consumers), a “false sense of security”.

Using a Buddhist term “Bardo”, the report says that humanity is at a critical juncture and that this requires a different view of our relationship with the earth. Amongst other proposals, the report lays down some excellent strategies for “zero waste”.

These are:

You could add to the list:

The speeding up of built-in obsolescence in order to increase sales is vital for corporations to generate profit as the rate of technological change increases. It is the system of production for profit – aka capitalism – which is at the heart of the problem.

So, ascribing the root of the eco-crisis to human existence on the planet as Gaia theorists do, is seriously misguided. The capitalist system of production alienates us from nature, not our desire to consume. As the example from India shows, even with laws in place, the needs of corporate profit will trump ecologically desirable ones.

Breaking away from the lethal cycle of production for profit is the great challenge of our time. We are part of this system and consumers within it. But we have the urgent need, the right and the power – collectively to put an end to it before it ends us.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
12 July 2013

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Your Say

Matthew says:

How do we convince the people of the world that we can't have it both ways? We've channeled all our energy for the past 40 years into an industrial uprooting of the biosphere that now threatens to collapse upon us. Most people would say they want to preserve natural beauty- any social network site is filled with images of humans in idyllic places that may not exist in the future.

These same people then turn around and claim they can't live without their mobile phone, laptop, tablet, e-cigarette...I own two of the above, so I can't start pointing the finger, but as you say Corinna the problem is the corporations mass dumping of e-waste that they don't want to, or can't sell.

Most importantly, how to counter the defeatists argument that 'we can't change human nature?' This is a problem of governance, human organisation and above all human systems. Nature can replenish itself- but some of our pollution is so severe we upset the most fundamental flows in the natural cycle.

It is still in our power, and we have a moral obligation to act for the sake of the next generations. Thanks Corinna for a timely post.

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