Institutional Waste

I am an incredible advocate of recycling, and have been since I was a child. I have never understood the mindset of individuals who do not spend the minuscule effort required to separate their trash. I convinced my parents to recycle when I was barely 7, back in the dark days when recycling meant hauling everything monthly a few miles to the local “recycling centre”. And not once have they wavered all these years. Nowadays there is even less excuse for recycling – in fact it is now mandatory across Japan and pickups are the same as with regular trash, from your doorstep. Be warned though – just recycling is simply not enough anymore. Even if everyone in the world recycled as much of their trash as possible, we would still have two major issues to contend with.

Firstly, for every bag of trash you recycle, another 17 have been made along the production process on your behalf. You can’t recycle them. This is where your conscious purchasing decisions come into play. By purchasing second hand, you share the burden of production waste with another individual. If you insist on purchasing new, you can choose products that are potentially more expensive but have less of an environmental impact.

Secondly, and the real motivation for posting today, is that a significant amount of waste comes from institutions and companies. Working in a university, I see this every day and it really frustrates me. The problem with institutions is that they aren’t spending their own money, so they really just don’t care about waste. You’d think that a religious university such as the one I’m working at might concern itself a little more with moral issues of environmental consideration, but you’d be entirely wrong… Each new school year, every one of the teachers in my office gets given a new syllabus to horde away somewhere – but do we really need it? Wouldn’t one for the entire office be quite sufficient? How about the idiot that decided to order a metric tonne of VHS video tapes that still haven’t been used and most likely never will – their fate sealed to sitting in a storeroom next to the 17 or so 1000-sheet each boxes of fancy departmental headed lined paper that some other moron decided to purchase years ago. The fully equipped gym that I have yet to see any student use? The mountain of English language books in the university library that are far beyond the level of any student that has ever studied English here? Who is responsible for all these wasted purchases? WHO!?

The answer may be quite simple: we are. Or at least our predecessors, and our colleagues. Every one of us in the business of teaching English professionally is involved in some kind of purchasing decision using budget money, and ultimately it’s up to us to use that money responsibly. One obvious piece of advice for people involved with purchasing disposable media such as tapes and CDs, paper etc is to make an accurate estimate of what is required, and not just purchase a years supply because making out a purchase order next month will be too much bother, or because you have a couple of extra hundred thousand yen on your budget that needs to be spent somehow. Just think before you sign off on that order – what you do if the money was your own? Would you consider that order to be financially and environmentally responsible?

For those of you not directly involved in purchasing decisions, you can still speak out and convince those who do of the benefits of being frugal during these rough times.

Found any pointless and badly made purchases in your school or company lately? Please name and shame them in the comments! Or perhaps you have an excellent environmental plan of action at your workplace, let us know.

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Eco-bulbs are not very eco, apparently

WebEcoist has posted a rather shocking report on the top 5 “green products” that are in fact significantly less green than they claim to be. Among the other 4 random American products I’ve never heard of I was surprised to see energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs that I’ve come to love and respect. Sadly, it appears they contain a lot of Mercury – which we really don’t want to be throwing away randomly into the environment, or so I hear. Luckily the bulbs have a life of around 5 years and most people started buying them about 2 years ago soooo … we shouldn’t be poisoned for another 2 or 3 years yet.

I quote:
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are the poster child for the new generation of eco-friendly, energy saving appliances. Department stores are aggressively marketing them to consumers and they have been flying off store shelves for the better part of this decade. There’s just one problem: CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, a potentially lethal neurotoxin that cannot be safely disposed of with other garbage. But since the government has yet to discover an efficient means of recycling these bulbs, they often do wind up being tossed out with other garbage. Massive amounts of time and money must then be spent to clean up mercury contamination.

Is the energy (and hence money) saved worth poisoning the environment? Not in my opinion.