The festive season for many people around the world is a time of plenty – of large meals and gift giving. But it’s also a time for many of big food wastage with excess food being scraped into bin and a collection of old gadgets that are now going to gather dust in the cupboard or end up on the scrapheap. Don’t worry, though, for there are plenty of things you can do to dispel these nagging worries post-Festive Season and in the process contribute to solving some of our most pressing environmental issues, as well as save yourself some money in the process.
The environmental concerns in question are those of food and electronic waste. While the last few decades have seen massive strides taken in recycling items such as paper, glassware and tins, these two areas have been left behind.
A report released this month by the Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative (StEP) predicts that e-waste will increase by almost a third to 65.4 million tonnes annually by 2017. This waste – old refrigerators, televisions, mobile phones, computers, monitors and other electronic products – would fill a line of 40-tonne trucks that, sitting nose to tail, would stretch three quarters of the way around the Equator. E-waste can also pose health risks. The World Health Organization lists related hazards such as direct contact with lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); inhalation of toxic fumes; and the accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its sister organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in their Think.Eat.Save – Reduce Your Foodprint campaign this year revealed that one third of all food produced each year – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted annually. Around 300 million tonnes of this food is discarded by producers, retailers and consumers – this food would be more than enough to feed the estimated 870 million people who face hunger each day across the globe. Not only that, but this uneaten food requires energy, water, fertilizers and land to produce. Much of it ends up on landfills, where it decomposes and releases the potent greenhouse gas methane.
So, now that you have a better idea of the scale of the global challenges, why not play your part over the festive season and beyond? While the problems are not easy to solve, there are many simple actions each one of us can take that will in no way spoil our enjoyment of the festive season but will contribute to more sustainable and green choices.
- Shop Smart: Plan meals, use shopping lists, buy from bulk bins, avoid impulse buys and don’t succumb to marketing tricks that lead you to buy more food than you need. Following these strategies might mean you don’t buy that giant turkey, and thus avoid the horror of desperately eating turkey sandwiches for the next week to try and use up the last scraps.
- Buy Funny Fruit: Many fruits and vegetables are thrown out because their size, shape, or colour is deemed not “right”. Buying these perfectly good fruit, at the farmer’s market or elsewhere, utilizes food that might otherwise go to waste.
- Understand Expiry Dates: Unlike “Sell-by” and “use-by” dates, “Best-before” dates are generally manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely consumed well after these dates, so some of the stocks in your fridge may well be good far beyond Christmas.
- Zero Down Your Fridge: Websites such as WRAP’s www.lovefoodhatewaste.com can help consumers get creative with recipes to use up anything that might go bad soon, so all those Christmas leftovers can be transformed into something tasty.
- Other actions include: freezing food; requesting smaller portions at restaurants; eating leftovers – whether home-cooked, from restaurants or takeaway; composting food; and donating spare food to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters.
While everybody loves a new gadget, perhaps you can consider whether you really need to replace old electronics if they are still operational. After all, it’s cool to be retro.
- Repair or upgrade rather than replace. Often we throw out malfunctioning or outdated electronics when local repair shops can fix them for us.
- Donate or sell old electronics that are still in working condition. Now that you have your new laptop or phone, you can still cash in on the old devices and claw back some of that Christmas spend. Equally, there are bound to be plenty of charities and schools in your area that would be glad to have your old gadgets?which for others could become their first. You can also explore takeback schemes, which see many major manufactures of electronic goods offering trade-in or recycling options on old goods.
- If your battered old phone really is beyond repair, perhaps because you dropped it in cup of tea, then locate e-waste recycling schemes in your area.