waste crisis

News from the from desk #391: Waste has been looming large on the horizon. Blame those graphic pictures of oceans choking in plastic. Blame those even more horrid images of birds and other sea creatures with their stomachs cut open to reveal plastic and more plastic.  

Not all plastic is bad, we read this morning. Some plastic is used to make spare parts for us humans, or to make lightweight structures that help us defy gravity. Bah humbug, you might think. It’s made from fossil fuels, let’s get rid of the lot. 

Disgust with pollution and waste looks like becoming the benign epidemic virus we should have released 10 years ago, before the carbon cowboys jumped on the notion that climate change was a political choice.

If we’d stuck to our natural inclination and politically neutral slogans and chants such as “clean up Australia” and “don’t be a tosser”, maybe our climate would be in better shape because clogging up our air with foul carbon from our coal burning, and lead-choked cars would not be a thing.

At least one incident we experienced years ago in the early days of The Fifth Estate reveals what cut-through the pollution and waste issue has. It was the head of a major engineering outfit who wanted to show he was a true sceptic and was a tad embarrassed to have people talking publicly about climate change in his presence.

“I just don’t buy it,” he proclaimed, rolling back a little on the balls of his feet, tosser-like (all that was missing to complete his image were his thumbs tucked into his upper braces.)

Seized with a desire to tilt this guy off his carefully balanced perch for good, we said, “Say you’re right; say climate change isn’t a thing. Do you think we should keep pumping out filthy pollution into the air? Or clogging up the oceans with plastic?”

He mumbled a “no” and had the grace to look confused.

Even that doofus Lord Monckton when he last appeared on radio, (obsequiously interviewed by the ABC lest they lost even more funding) thought we should do absolutely nothing to get rid of carbon emissions, yet, asked what he thought about polluting the ocean, the mere thought horrified him. Well, no, he said, we should look after our oceans. Let’s remember the Conservatives of the UK had their origins in conservation of nature.

No wonder the ABC’s War on Waste last year hit a nerve. Season one last year racked up 4.3 million viewers – way more than expected, more than 50 highly active Facebook pages, 20 million views of its video on dumping perfectly good bananas and it lit a fire under the responsible café movement.

Read about this phenomenon here,where you’ll see there is a café in Perth called Antz Inya Pantz that won’t serve takeaway cups at all. In two years just five people walked out, not bad from a total of around 400 customers a day, the owner said. In Geelong, staff at Schulz Dairy decants milk into glass bottles.

Season 2 of War on Waste premieres on July 24.

And now we have China saying “talk to the hand” on waste.

So what about the property industry?

It’s a slow churn (pardon the pun) but waste has gone from the stuff no one wants to think about in the loading dock to the ugly scar that festers and will be increasingly under the spotlight.

On Wednesday CitySwitch, the Better Buildings Partnership and Edge Environment held an event in Sydney to launch a new campaign to stop an embarrassing habit of this supposedly world-leading sustainable green building industry – throwing so much of the stuff it produces out to landfill. Offices, shopping centres, hotels, housing… pretty much everything we live, work and play in is something we throw out when we want to move, need something better, or simply get bored.

Out it goes.

The event this week was an eye opener. 

The event attracted 77 people, maybe double the initial estimates. A workshop after to nut out what to do with that most intractable of problems – melamine laminated particleboard (MLPB) that comes from workstations and other cabinetry and is not currently recycled – attracted 46 instead of the expected 30 or so.

But what was more revealing than the numbers was the spirit of excitement in the room. It was similar to the feeling of the early days of the green building movement and after it, broader sustainability.

There was excitement, commitment and a certain beautiful naiveté that is essential for success. One piece of excellent advice we once heard from a very successful property and business man was to never research too much – do a bit, get the big picture notion right then just jump in and make it work.

That was the sense on the day. A sector that wants to take off and is getting the sense that it will. 

The big picture evidence is on its side. There is huge need. There’s a growing number of people who care about it. And even more persuasive is that this is an area that people can see money in. A business. Right now it’s attracting a mix of private and social enterprises, but both have to produce returns.

But beyond it all is a sense of optimism that this sector’s time has come.

Someone at the event thought you should not qualify for any sustainable stars or accolades of any sort for new buildings until you have disposed of your old building or office or furniture and fittings in a responsible manner.

Harsh? Maybe, but so is what we are doing to this beautiful planet.

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  1. Its a great time to get involved in the waste & recycling educational workshops run by both the private and public sectors.

    I’ve been providing workshops on how to avoid being a victim of illegal dumping & what you can and can’t recycle when specifying building materials for over 5 years now. its very rewarding as the go-pro camera footage in the link displays.

    Its nice to give back…. after all those years working in construction, then procurement, where we cut twice (& generated waste), when we should have measured twice then cut… (an old carpenters saying).