Today is World Water Day and what better way to celebrate than by talking about sewage?
The Stockholm Environment Institute, an international non-profit research and policy organization, released a report on how we can better handle human waste. When it comes to basic sanitation there is plenty of good news including that only 26% of the global population has access to sanitation which is down from 50% in 1990. The report this year looks at how we can use sewage in the circular economy including turning into power to fuel buses.
“We need to reevaluate our view on wastewater and human excreta. Today’s approach to disposal means lost opportunities in the form of nutrients and organic matter which are being flushed away,” says Kim Andersson, Senior Expert at the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors ofSanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery. “Instead, we could use these materials to improve soils or produce clean burning, low carbon biogas. If cleaned properly, wastewater can even be turned into drinking water. Reusing this resource will generate new jobs and business models.”
One of the largest markets in the world will soon be demanding manufactures to let consumers repair what their products. You may have bought a product like a cellphone that gets minor damage which you can’t repair yourself, so you need to send it back to the manufacturers for an expensive or worse: buy a new one. The amount of waste produced by negligent manufactures because their products cannot be repaired is astronomical. This has led Europe to begin the process of passing legislation around the consumer’s right to repair what they own.
Some political leaders agree. In November, the EU Parliament called on the European Commission to make routine repair of everyday products easier, systematic and cost-efficient. It said that warranties should be extended, and that replacement parts should be improved and made more accessible, as should information enabling general repair and maintenance.
The EU’s existing eco-design regulations could be an instrument to reach these goals. These mandates were established years ago to improve the energy efficiency of products sold in the EU. But in March, the first eco-design regulation that will define standards for repair and useful life will come into force. Manufacturers of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and monitors will have to ensure that components are replaceable with common tools. Instruction manuals must be accessible to specialist companies. And producers must supply spare parts within 15 days.
Floating trash collectors were put in the Toronto harbour a few years ago and the research team behind the project keeps finding interesting things. The University of Toronto’s Trash Team has realized that beyond keeping the water clean the bins can help identify sources of pollutants. With this increase in knowledge of how trash flows in water we can craft better policies to protect nature from human waste.
Since the Seabins were first installed, it’s been U of T Trash Team co-founder Chelsea Rochman’s job — along with team members like U of T student Cassandra Sherlock — to comb through what comes out of them.
Rochman is working on guidelines for classifying the waste that will eventually be put to use in communities around the province.
“Any type of trash trap does one thing really well… divert our plastic waste out of the Great Lakes,” she told CBC Toronto.
“But it also can involve policy because what we find tells us something about the source.”
Take those pre-production pellets that Fisher found all over an island beach in Lake Superior, which Rochman says also turn up regularly in the Toronto Seabins after blowing away from industrial sites.
Carbon emissions continue to drop due to the economic slowdown and are on track for an 8% reduction for 2020. This is good news for the planet as it gets a brief break from all the waste we’re dumping into the atmosphere. Still, it has revealed that individual actions alone won’t do enough to avert climate catastrophe, we need to work together and enforce the creation of a carbon-neutral economy. Individual transportation solutions (like cars) use is down substantially yet we’re still going to blow past the carbon output budget for 2020, where then can we cut back on emissions? Look to manufacturing and our sources of energy.
“I think the main issue is that people focus way, way too much on people’s personal footprints, and whether they fly or not, without really dealing with the structural things that really cause carbon dioxide levels to go up,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
Transportation makes up a little over 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. (In the United States, it makes up around 28 percent.) That’s a significant chunk, but it also means that even if all travel were completely carbon-free (imagine a renewable-powered, electrified train system, combined with personal EVs and battery-powered airplanes), there’d still be another 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions billowing into the skies.
Smart people have been following the advice from health officials to limit trips outside the home to slow the spread of COVID-19, which means bigger grocery trips. This sounds innocuous until you realize that since this is a time a lot of people are regularly cooking at home they don’t know how to manage their filled fridges. Produce goes bad faster than expected and people might by stuff with good intentions only to forget about it.
How do we deal with this increase of potential food waste? Make a list.
Keeping your fridge stocked without much of its contents ending up in your compost bin (note: this is also a great time to get a compost bin if you don’t already have one) isn’t hard, but it does take a modicum of effort. To that end, I made up a very basic, fly-by-night system to organize yourself, your groceries, and your cooking. You can basically modify it however works for you! The idea is just to keep track of what you buy and when it will go bad using lists, and keeping that information in plain sight on your refrigerator.
The system is extremely low-tech, and it’s based on a series of lists: picking out a few exciting things you want to try cooking before you go to the grocery store, putting ingredients for those meals on your grocery list, writing down when all the food items you’ve purchased will start to go bad, and then making a cooking schedule to accommodate all those (approximate — we’re all guessing) expiration dates. I suggest putting these lists in plain sight, like on your fridge, to keep your meal plan front-of-mind.