torsdag 18 april 2013

Convenience food, waste and polution

Famous Australian horticulturalist, Costa Georgiadis believes that the prevalence of convenience food is the bane of our existence. We're polluting the air when we drive to the shops, polluting the environment with non-recyclable packaging and slowly killing the earth by throwing away millions of dollars worth of food each year.

FAO predicts that 40 years from now, the world will need to increase food production by a whopping 60%. With our exponentially increasing global population, finite land and resources; it presents as a huge task to broaden the spectrum and adapt unconventional farming methods to urban landscapes.

By relying on big supermarket chains that care more about profit and quantity than quality, we're buying the short end of the stick. Our affluent society has become so engrossed with materialism and so far removed from the our origins. Sure my neighbour has a super expensive car and my cool friends all have the iPhone 4 but living this way is not sustainable. We're stripping the Earth of everything and giving only a minute portion back.

Costa challenges us with the problem of poo. Its more endearing term in the field is humanure and, with proper composting and decomposition, can safely return rich organic matter to the soil where it is needed to replenish all the nutrients that are extracted by the plants and animals that we eat. 

"Nearly a third of all household drinking water in the US is used to flush toilets" writes Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. Costa's challenge is for us to devise a better way to manage our sewerage. Since 2008 Thames Water has been burning poop and methane derived from sewage sludge to generate electricity to offset their bill at the sewerage treatment plant. Sydney Water captures methane and ships treated 'biosolids' to farms around the Western Slopes of NSW. 

The website lists 3 simple ways to "help improve the quality of biosolids. These include:

· don't wash paint, pesticides, medicines or other chemicals down the sink or toilet. Put them in the bin or take them to a chemical collection point 

· use low phosphorous or phosphorous-free detergents and pesticides, and only use the recommended amount of detergent for your washing machine and dishwasher

· don't pour grease, oil or milk down the sink.

By improving the quality of waste entering the wastewater, you ultimately improve what returns to the environment after treatment."

Although any steps towards sustainability are positive, I don't believe that it's enough to call it a victory for the human race any time soon. At a recent lecture in Stockholm organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Richard China (Director of FAO Liason Office with the EU and Belgium) stated that reduced waste and loss by smallholders, producers, consumers, and entrepreneurs is imperative to sustainable and resilient food production and consumption. The cost of inaction is too great for this agenda to be ignored.

Cathy Xiao Chen

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