How do we dispose of what we produce or purchase? A lot of what we dispose of as waste is material that could easily serve another purpose. We dispose of organic waste that can be used to feed various animals and insects (chicken, pigs, Black Soldier Flies, red wiggler worms). This organic waste can also be converted to compost manure, hence providing a sustainable alternative to the factory-produced fertilizers that have been shown to reduce the quality of soil after extensive use; and are also environmental pollutants, particularly when they enter water sources and channels.
Glass waste (unless broken) can easily be re-used within homes as storage jars or bottles for various items and beverages. Even broken glass is quite useful due to its ease in recycling. Glass can simply be melted to produce other glass products. Glass itself is merely sand that was superheated. When you heat sand beyond a certain temperature, it melts, and later solidifies as glass.
Plastic waste is also easily re-used to provide storage containers, planting containers and other household and home items. However, the ubiquity and sheer number of plastics encountered makes the re-use of such items inapplicable beyond a certain point, especially at the household scale. Recycling of paper and cloth waste at the household level also presents similar challenges.
Waste management is a vital issue, and knowing how to handle and sustainably manage different categories of waste is crucial. However, the primary factor that I believe hardly gets mentioned concerns the production waste. It is all well and good to talk about how to manage waste, but we also need to deal with it at source. This simply translates to the creation of less waste. Using plastic waste as an example, particularly PET bottles, companies should find alternative packaging solutions other than PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate). Glass is one such alternative. Alternatively, companies can provide top-down incentives that promote return of PET bottles to source. For example, consumers can be incentivized to return bottles to retailers; retailers similarly incentivized to return them to suppliers; and suppliers return them to the bottlers. The Coca-Cola Company is one of the largest multinationals globally, and one with a presence in nearly every country and locality. It is also one of the primary users of PET bottles for packaging, alongside other companies dealing in the sale of soft drinks and water. It would be quite simple for the company to implement either or both of the suggestions in their supply chain model. In Kenya, we typically have Coca-Cola distributors located in various towns. Rather than solely act as distributors for the company’s products, they should also work as collection centers for PET bottles associated with the company.
All in all, it is time we give due attention to how waste is created, rather than over-emphasis on waste disposal. Over 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, of which less than 6% will be recycled.