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Waste not, want not?

Labor Day, USA, the end of summer and our customers will change from thinking about air conditioning to the thinking about the boiler.  Your typical 15 year old boiler wastes about 25% of the fuel, mostly up the chimney, heating the outside world.

1980's, 75% (or less) efficient natural gas boilers

That waste is much in line with everything else.  Food waste around the world is around 30%, due to harvesting and storage losses in the developing world and just plain “waste” in the developed world.

There has been a recent series of articles and radio shows on the subject, with a lot of positive suggestions – things we CAN do to reduce food waste. Like 5 things to reduce food waste and reducing energy consumption in food production.  (The links will take you to lots more information and further academic detail is in this paper)

It’s not so easy at the personal level.  The realist knows that each item slipping down his throat travels some 1500 miles from where it grew to get there.  Sure we have locivores, but can you really feed 20 million plus people from the land available in NYC and all of New Jersey?  I honestly don’t know the answer, but suspect it would be a complicated solution – and highly non-organic, no cows wandering around fields eating natural grass.

Anyhow, at a personal level, we still throw out wilted vegetables and moldy grapes on an almost weekly basis – flown from who knows where at great energy expense.  30% of US milk – after having the cows eat valuable biomass, getting them milked, the raw milk transported to a processing plant, pasteurized, packed, cooled, shipped, displayed, transported again, stored in a fridge – is finally thrown out, much of it in the form of unopened children’s lunches.

The realist speaks from some experience; having worked in a pasteurizing plant many years ago.  We would send out crates of small milk bottles (yes it dates me, those where the days of bottles with foil caps) in the morning and receive them back, about half still unopened, others half full and crawling with maggots, for cleaning and refilling in the evening.

I also have a monthly day of shame when we put out the paper recycling and find that our mound is bigger than anyone else’s in the street.  Because we buy too much stuff?  Because we buy on the internet – where every tiny item comes in the standard size cardboard box?

We went to Sandy Hook late Saturday and there in the emptying parking lot we saw all the neat heaps of trash carefully thrown out by each departing family – the ghost form of the departed car outlined in soda bottles, food cartons and French fry bags.  And not just Sandy Hook either – our local Post Office had a similar decoration.  Why would anyone picnic at the Keyport Post Office?

And finally I get quite sad when I have to throw away beautifully designed items like the correction tape dispenser below.

Here we have a work of industrial design and execution that just becomes more indestructible land fill – yes I put in the recycle bin, but less than 8% of plastic trash is actually recycled… (see this fun picture for more info – scroll down to see the plastics numbers).  And of course this throwing away of perfectly serviceable, well designed items goes on everywhere – washing machines replaced because of a bearing, windscreen wiper motors because of one worn gear wheel , computers because of a broken power cord connector (all from personal experience).  Yet the economics of the thing is so screwed up that it makes more sense to throw it out, and replace it (usually with an imported item), rather than employ someone local to repair, or to to even make available the replacement part to those who have the time and desire to fix it themselves.

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