Throwaway Culture a cause of Increasing Pollution?

Clean Water Action (CWA), an American environmental advocacy group working for clean, safe and affordable water in the USA, found from their research in Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, and South San Francisco from October 2010 to April 2011 that the biggest source of rubbish on the streets is fast food, accounting for 49% of the total rubbish collected. They also claim that up to 21% could have been eliminated by reusable alternatives.

The contribution of rubbish thrown on the streets to pollution is something authorities should look into and try to minimise. Not only is rubbish unsightly on the streets, it also contributes to the pollution of waterways (For example, stormwater pollution, which I briefly wrote about 2 months ago!). In addition, improper waste management is not enviornmentally sustainable — an article from The Guardian by Walshe (2013) describes how New York’s waste management used to include using garbage trucks that are sent to landfills, and how residents are affected by not just the sight but also the stench of rubbish.

What other cities have been doing include recycling and conservation efforts to reduce the amount of rubbish generated, so it is not merely a shifting of rubbish out of sight but includes actual management. However, Walshe (2013) points out that not only is it hard to change the disposable mentality of New Yorkers, the lack of public recycling facilities and ineffective measures (such as the nickel deposit on bottles) are factors affecting for the lackluster recycling measures in the city of New York. For instance, Walshe notes that the “nickel deposit on bottles” are not seen as valuable enough to encourage people to claim them by recycling — most people do not feel that the nickel (approximately 5 cents) is worth the trouble.

This is something that perhaps we can consider when thinking about measures to target pollution: can we think of something that people will be willing to comply with, and yet economically sustainable? I do not think that a ‘carrot and stick’ approach will necessarily work in the long run (perhaps the ease of improper disposal of rubbish and excessive use of energy resources, for example, is an easier option for many people such that small monetary benefits may not be significant), and the change in mindset is something that is much harder the cultivate but yet much more sustainable.

How then, do we change behaviour? In these articles’ cases, how do we modify the throwaway culture?

As cliche as it sounds, we have to work from the ground. And before we can start thinking about changing the mindsets of other people, we should perhaps look at how we can modify our daily habits to reduce the amount of disposable trash that we generate. For instance, we could bring our own containers when ordering take-aways (it will be interesting to know how successful is ProjectBox by NUS SAVE — the initiative lets staff and students obtain a $2 discount off their next canteen meal if they use their own containers for 10 times). I have not tried this myself, but the last time I am at the canteen, I still saw these printouts pasted on the canteen stores.

Sources:

Cheeseman, G. (2011) Fast Food Garbage Makes up 50% of street (and Pacific Gyre) litter. Triple Pundit. [Online]. Retrieved from: http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/06/fast-food-big-source-trash-pollution/ [last accessed: 27 March 2015].

Walshe, S. (2013). New York’s Waste Management plans don’t address throwaway culture. The Guardian [Online]. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/new-york-waste-management-plans-conflict [last accessed: 27 March 2015]