Regular WasteAM readers will know that I recently went to the European Youth Meeting for Sustainable Development 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia. I was selected as a UK delegate to participate in a working group on waste management, helping to shape a declaration which will be submitted to the Rio 20+ international environmental summit taking place in 2012.
Now, I will be honest with you. I could write some self-promotional prose, gushing about how inspiring the conference was and how lucky I was to take part in it. It is sometimes very tempting to write about news that way, as you won’t offend anybody. But in this case I’ll speak my mind.
All the interesting content of the 5-day conference could have been compressed into two days. Too much of the conference was wasted on pomp and ceremony with a lot of time wasting in between sessions. There wasn’t much substance to the 9-hour days; just a lot of waiting around for someone to give a speech.
It was more of a youth conference than a sustainable development conference. They seemed more interested in getting you to sign up to future youth caucuses (a sort-of play politics) than actually exploring the environmental issues suggested by the conference title, in any meaningful depth.
The waste management working group was the single interesting aspect of the conference. I enjoyed sharing ideas and opinions with the other people in the working group. Nobody was expert on the subject (this had its pros and cons) but most were at least waste fanatics, which meant they were enthusiastic about proposing policy ideas that would change our wasteful cultures and squanderous, short-term mindset that wastes resources today and doesn’t consider tomorrow.
I had the expectation that (most) of my European friends would have a more radical standpoint on the waste issue than myself. I found quite the opposite to be true. The outlooks expressed were totally dependent on the nationality of delegate. Those from poorer nations with underdeveloped infrastructure wanted improved recycling facilities. You can keep improving recycling but it doesn’t serve to change the behaviour which causes us to waste a lot in the first place.
Until most people can think beyond recycling, they are unable to think about the bigger picture.
A lot of my proposals didn’t make it into the final declaration (we voted on consensus). Moreover, the policy proposals that make it into the final document are a watered-down version of the things we proposed. This is a missed opportunity – shouldn’t a youth voice be ambitious and distinctive?
There was no consensus to incorporate a policy proposal to prevent rich countries from sending their toxic waste to developing countries. There wasn’t enough in it to make manufacturers accountable for the waste and crap they produce and we buy. We didn’t even discuss industrial waste. We also weren’t bold enough to ban the use of PVC in consumer goods.
I posted our recommendations yesterday and invite your comments! Over the next few weeks I’ll explore our policy proposals in greater depth
Here are the recommendations of the Waste Management working group I participated in at the European Youth Meeting for Sustainable Development in Estonia 2011. What do you think?
I welcome your comments on our policy ideas to tackle waste, and will also be going into greater depth to explain the thinking behind the proposals in future posts
I’ve been thinking of ways to influence others to waste less for sometime without giving due consideration to the reasons causing the wastefulness in the first place. Our problem with waste stems from human desire to acquire stuff and consume more. We’re consuming stuff at an alarmingly unsustainable and unequal rate. It’s not fair on people in developing countries; it selfishly uses up resources that should be replensihable for future generations ; and it threatens the continued existence of innumerable species.
I have heard it said many times that one of the reasons people waste so much is because the public is uneducated about the issues. The logic goes that if children are taught in school why it is good to recycle and bad to waste food, they will become model adult citizens.
I don’t think it is merely a matter of education. I think it is ignorance. I think most people just don’t care. Others prefer to have their head in the sand about the facts and what destruction the wastefulness is causing.
Should we educate people about waste issues? How can a day’s worth of teaching or a local authority leaflet campaign possibly counter the images that bombard us every day, urging us to buy, buy, buy?
Culture of Consumerism
Never before have people had so much stuff. Are we any happier? Consumer culture has implanted twisted values in our minds. We value who has the most, not who has done the most good.
Long-term Investments Vs Short-term profit
Creating a more efficient *resource* stream requires investment. In order to get people to reuse more and recycle (remember most people don’t care) it has to be easy and convenient for them. Setting up separate food waste collection schemes requires investment. In the long-term investment making the resource stream effective will pay off. It may not line anyone’s pockets but it will preserve resources.
The problem is change is expensive and the people who make the decisions have short-term mandates.
Lack of Responsibility for Resource Lifecycle
In our crazy system the manufacturer or retailer is not properly accountable for the junk they send out into the world. The consumer pays twice (at the counter and through council tax to dispose of the junk). The manufacturer gets off too lightly for producing plastic waste and toxic garbage that has an enduring and harmful waste legacy.
Invisible Long-Term Impact of Waste
We no longer have to confront the detritus we consume, which is conveniently collected from our homes for us and goes far away from us where we can neither see nor smell it. Nobody seems to know where it goes. We have removed heavily industry from our towns. Nobody seems to know what energy or resources is required to make crap, or for a chicken to produce an egg.
What other problems do you think we’re up against?