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Juana Fernández Rodríguez, Professor of department of Chemistry of the University of Navarra and manager of group of Environmental Volunteers of the academic center.

Consume or die

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 15:57:00 +0000 Posted in Malaga Opinion

Juana FernándezIn our society, waste is growing and growing by leaps and bounds. At the same time, better treatments are sought to minimize the environmental impact of these wastes.even if doing so always involves a high cost - economic and/or energy -. In fact, in the hierarchy of the management waste hierarchy there is a fundamental first step: the best waste is the one that is not generated. It is under this premise that the European Week for Waste Reduction -from November 18 to 26- whose main goal is promote and implement awareness actions on sustainable resources and waste management .

It is curious that this year's European Week for Waste Reduction also coincides with Black Friday, on November 24, and Cyber Monday, on November 27. Two examples of days where consumption is the main and only protagonist. In these conference companies offer their products with the best, unique and unrepeatable offers, so that, aware of our consumerist craving, increase their sales massively creating an overflowing spiral.

Driven by consumerism at a discounted price (or not...), sales increase, new consumer goods are purchased and old or obsolete goods are discarded. Many of them actually still work, but they will be changed simply to change model or to get new features that we may never use.

In all likelihood, the goods we are going to discard will become waste. On the other hand, the new products purchased come wrapped in their packaging, protected to avoid shocks during the transport stage to the store and the consumer. All these Materials - plastics, polystyrene, metals, cardboard - will end up in the garbage bin. With luck, perhaps in the selective waste collection bin. If we also shop online, the product packaging will be accompanied by more packaging to protect it during transport to the customer's home. Boxes containing more boxes and more plastic. And so the waste continues to grow. And what will happen to it?

There are programs of study that indicate that the biodegradation of some materials takes decades, even hundreds of years. Specifically, the average degradation of plastics takes about 150 years. 150 years! Probably our great-great-grandchildren - or perhaps their children - when they take a leisurely stroll in the countryside may find traces of plastic from a bottle we threw away today. An adult might also come across a disposable diaper that he or she used as a baby, as it takes about 250 years to degrade.

This waste obviously reaches every corner of the planet, and it is not uncommon to receive images of turtles eating plastic because they have mistaken a bag for a jellyfish, their food source . Or a dead bird whose beak has been obstructed by a plastic plug. Or again, a turtle that was hooked as a child to the plastic that binds the cans and the growth of its shell followed the patterns marked by the plastic.

If we truly aspire to conserve resources and our environment, there is no other way out than to prevent or avoid waste before it is generated, hence the important role played by the consumer. We, as consumers, are one of the parts of the market structure, so if we do not buy certain goods, such as those that are overpackaged, companies will stop offering products in this way.

If we want to reverse this self-destructive trend, we must rethink our lifestyle far beyond what concerns us directly; and far beyond what is solely our comfort. Along these lines, circuits are being proposed for the collection of packaging for reuse or for the home recycling of such polluting waste as used cooking oil. But if, despite this, we continue to generate waste, however minimal it may be, as a society we must demand adequate and environmentally sustainable treatment.

Just depositing garbage in the appropriate containers and paying religiously the invoice is not enough. We live in an environment and we must protect it, for ourselves and for future generations.