Eliminating Waste and Inefficiency

If we replaced all the incandescent light bulbs in the world with existing compact fluorescents  we can close 705 of the world’s 2400 coal plants. Internal combustion engines are so inefficient that we need to have radiators handle the waste energy.  Electric motors are 3 times more efficient than the internal combustion engine and can save on that energy 

- Lester Brown, Founder, Earth Policy Institute

We have become a society of abundance and harbour a throw-away mentality

- German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner

In Germany, over 11 million kilograms of food is thrown out each year, 60 per cent from private households. The European Union throws away 3 billion tonnes of waste per year. The planet wastes half the energy it produces. Such huge losses mean that huge amounts of resources are used in vain, just as the greenhouse gas emissions caused in their production are in vain.

Waste is a concept of the industrial age and is based upon two assumptions which are no longer valid:

  1. We have endless resources
  2. The planet is an infinite sink which can take limitless amounts of air, water and solid pollution

Human beings have create a progress trap of the highest order. Our human progress has created a massive industrial technocracy whose health depends on the generation of dangerous levels of waste to operate and keep people alive. If civilization survives the next decades, elders will be able to share with children and grandchildren the lesson of Icarus and our near encounter with extinction – we created wings upon which we could fly, venturing further and further with our ambition. The very ingenuity that has allowed human civilization to develop so much, so quickly now threatens to destroy it. Will we be like the ill-fated Icarus done in by our over ambition?

The waste generated by human civilization can very well be our ultimate undoing. We have a very short time to “clean up our act” and leave the concept of waste behind forever. We must obsolete trash bins at home and, more importantly, in our mind.  This way of thinking must become a thing of the past. For the trash bin mentality is no different than that practiced by large transnational companies – externalizing environmental waste problems so that it is not reflected on their bottom line. We cannot pass the buck any longer. This abdication of responsibility is based on the false premise that the planet is an infinite sink of infinite  that can absorb and process anything we throw into it. While this may have been true a few centuries ago before our forefathers exponentially scaled manufacturing, it is patently false now. With 7 billion people on the planet and another 2 billion expected in a few decades, this is not only an impractical and antiquated  model, it is a self-destructive pathway.

Food Waste

Western countries throw out nearly half of their food, not because it’s inedible — but because it doesn’t look appealing. Tristram Stuart delves into the shocking data of wasted food, calling for a more responsible use of global resources.

Consumers are the key players in reducing food waste. Within the last 4 years, the Danish Stop Wasting Food movement (Stop Spild Af Mad) has grown from a small Facebook group to the biggest Danish NGO against food waste, influencing the retailers as well as the politicians and helping to put the topic on EU’s and UN’s agenda.

According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans are tossing up to 40 percent of the food supply each year, along with all the resources used to produce food that never gets eaten. Food waste occurs at home, on the farm, and in supermarkets. In this TED Talk, NRDC’s executive director Peter Lehner explores the low-tech, tried-and-true solutions proven to reduce food waste and save money for consumers and businesses alike.

If you’ve been in a restaurant kitchen, you’ve seen how much food, water and energy can be wasted there. Chef Arthur Potts-Dawson is the founder of  The People’s Supermarket and shares his very personal vision for the waste-free restaurant — recycling, composting, sustainable engines for good (and good food).

Growing up in Italy, food was considered a sacred part of life. Time was invested in growing, selecting, protecting, preparing and savoring food. Yet, Americans waste 40% of their food, and the implications affect our health, our communities, the economy and the environment. Dr. Patrizia La Trecchia shares her deep connection to food and presents a call to action for a war on food waste. Dr. LaTrecchia received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is Associate Professor at USF, where she directs the Italian Program. Her research includes film, media, literature, globalization, migration, citizenship, the Italian South, food and identity, culture of food, sustainability of diets and food consumption, and food waste.

Cookbook author (and geek) Nathan Myhrvold talks about his magisterial work, “Modernist Cuisine” — and shares the secret of its cool photographic illustrations, which show cross-sections of food in the very act of being cooked.

The Solution to Waste: Cradle-to-Cradle Design and a Circular Economy 

If we remove waste from the vocabulary of our future civilization, what we get is:

  1. Cradle-to-Cradle design and manufacturing
  2. A Circular Economy

The two go hand in hand. Once cradle-to-cradle design and manufacturing becomes the norm, then the resulting economy is a circular one.  By recognizing  the reality of finite and dwindling resources and that we have already exceeded limits of the pollution that the planet can absorb, we are led directly to this pair.

The leading proponents of Cradle-to-cradle are:

  

In the UK,  the leading proponents of the circular economy are:

    

The Business Opportunity

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has released a study showing the enormous business opportunity awaiting businesses who redesign for cradle-to-cradle.  In summary, there is $2.6 trillion USD worth of potential business for recovering technical nutrients from waste.

Defra calculates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23 billion per year through low cost or no cost improvements in the efficient use of resources, while McKinsey estimates that the global value of resource efficiency could eventually reach $3.7 trillion per year.

The diagrams below shows how a circular economics could transform the UK economy by 2010 and by 2020

Figure 1: WRAP UK circular economy material flow in 2000, 2010, 2020

 

Energy

Over half the energy in developed countries is wasted. That means these countries are not only wasting most of the energy we generate, but using it to generate CO2 and global warming as well. Hence improving efficiency can tackle two major problems at once and is one of the easiest pathways to achieving significant CO2 emissions reduction.

Food

We waste enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Again, energy, material resources and human labor was put into all our food and wasting the food is wasting all of these invested resources.

Water

We waste much of our precious supply of freshwater through many different ways but if you are a meat eater, by far the biggest impact you can make on water conservation is eating less meat. You don’t have to make a choice to eat less red meat based on ethics, you can do it based upon principles of water conservation.

Figure 2: Water Footprint

 

Material

In general, as we move out of the industrial age and into a truly sustainable one, we must transition our economy towards a circular economy, one in which the antiquated concept of waste, a result of the industrial age is replaced by the central principle of biomimicry and cradle-to-cradle design: food = waste.

 

Figure 3: Connecticut MSW Waste 2010

Figure 4: Connecticut MSW envisioned recovery