Have you ever thought about how much waste you generate on a daily basis? If you’ve spent any time in Japan, you may be more aware of your waste habits. Last December, my sister visited the country and got first-hand experience of this. She was struck by Japan’s lack of public trashcans and surprisingly litter-free streets. Some municipalities have over 44 different garbage categories and people often carry around their trash all day to dispose of it properly at home.
Waste is a serious matter in Japan, guided for centuries by the cultural concept of Mottainai:
“having respect for the resources around you, to not waste these resources and to use them with a sense of gratitude.”
This way of life and disposal makes sense for an island country with limited landfill space. It’s encouraging that affluent, consumer-based countries have created such dynamic cultural waste norms, especially in light of America’s throw-away habits. For food waste alone, it’s estimated that the U.S. tosses 30-40% of its food produced annually, costing about $165 billion and producing almost 34 million tons of waste. Considering that every ton of food wasted creates 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the scope of this issue is staggering. What’s more, globally about $1 trillion or one-third of all food produced goes uneaten.
Due to these realities, we conduct an audit to track SPU’s waste contribution. This year with the implementation of a campus-wide compost program, it was a lengthier collection and recording process. Over the course of May, we analyzed about 820 cubic yards or 310,535 lbs. of waste: 26% garbage, 61% recyclables, and 13% compostables. Continue reading