Saturday, 17 April 2010

Dispose.... until there's nothing left to dispose of

As you may know Greenhouse collected a number of small plastic bottles from students for us to fill up and place two in each flushing unit of each University toilet to conserve the equivalent volume of water that would otherwise be flushed down the sewers.

But where would these plastic bottles ended up? If they were thrown in a bring-in site or a waste separating skip, they would have ended up at Sant’Antnin. So Joseph and I decided to pay the place a visit to see what the place is all about.

And we were impressed.

We found huge warehouses filled with waste. Large excavators (gafef) shoving mounds of our containers and other packaging.

Look at that! That is one pile of many that were there staring at us. And it really says something about our lifestyle. I don’t want to put words in your mouth…but does it convey any message at all?

The picture above is one of the plastic piles. The most abundant items in this pile were detergent and water bottles. Easter egg wrappings and all sorts of fancy packaging lied there. How many of these containers did we really need? How long did we use them? Could we have done without them?

Transparent and colored plastic items are separated and treated differently. At the end plastic is shredded and the final shreddings exported.

A kind worker showed us around and he explained what happened in this waste treatment plant.
Paper waste is also astronomical. Paper is separated from carton; white paper is separated from colored ones, glossy paper from non-glossy.
Huge carton boxes filled with all sorts of paper lied there- junk mail of all sorts, old and worn out books and papers, magazines, leaflets and boxes of the ‘Government Gazette’- I couldn’t believe my eyes.

These papers are then packed into large batches and exported. They are then treated with a special dye to remove the ink and the paper re-used. This process is what makes recycled paper more expensive.
There was also a mound of box files but these are not easy to recycle as they have to be dismantled and the metal treated differently than the plastic covering.

Our guide also showed us a box full of transparent plastic tubes.

This is what your plastic bottle looks like before it is moulded into what we know as a plastic bottle. Bottling companies receive these tubes and, using their machinery, give them their proper shape. Apparently, some of these tubes are received damaged and they have to be thrown away.

Our guide concluded by pondering on some things: how very few people attend their Open Days, how many people still decide to mix their waste and how University students are not sensitive to the issue and decide to also mix their waste (Note: he was talking about skips and bring-in sites. The tri-bin system that was in place in the quad has nothing to do with this.)

As we left the place, passing by a mound of broken deckchairs some thoughts came rushing to my mind.
We are extracting the planet’s resources, turning them into things and then throw them away.
We are using very precious material to turn into useless, stupid things we can do without.
We are filling our landfills with waste and exporting an enormous amount of more waste.

I want to share with you two quotes:

“We don’t throw things “away,” we simply put them someplace where they defile the land, foul the water, pollute the air or change the earth’s atmosphere.”

-Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, 2004

“Source reduction is, on the face it, perhaps the most appealing of all the possible approaches to solid-waste management. “

-William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!, 1992

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