Can you guess what the largest manmade structure was for the whole second half of the 21st century? You may have said the great wall of China or perhaps the Eiffel Tower? Either way, you would be wrong. Rather, it was not a structure in the traditional sense. An architect had no say in its layout. More importantly, it was not built by a single company for a single purpose but was instead crowdfunded in the most traditional sense. A story of our time, excess waste as a result of excess consumption. The largest manmade structure on Earth, for over 50 years, was the Fresh Kills landfill found in Staten Island, New York.
When Fresh Kills was opened it was labelled as a temporary landfill, yet at its peak 13000 tons of rubbish was added daily. That amount of waste is incomprehensible. Capitalism thrives on unsustainable growth and this leads to an immense amount of byproduct. Food waste is often associated with American culture, but South Africa is a top contender as well. In South Africa 10 million tonnes of food go to waste every year, that’s a third of our food production. So where does all of this food go? Well about 90% of it ends up in our landfills, where it breaks down and leads to the creation of methane gas and carbon dioxide.
This phenomenon affects our planet in a variety of ways, firstly the amount of electricity taken to produce this amount of food could power the whole of Johannesburg for 16 weeks! Goodbye load shedding! Secondly the amount of wasted embedded water could fill over 600 000 Olympic swimming pools! Goodbye water restrictions.
How legislation can help
In South Africa it is illegal to donate perishable food past its expiry date, even if it is safe for human consumption, so maybe we should take a long hard look at our current legislation that regulates the sell and use-by dates on our products.
Taking a page out of France’s book
Restaurants are also guilty of wasting food, and a number of restaurant chains are reluctant to donate their unused/uncooked food supply. France has made a stand against this when in 2016 a law was passed stating that grocers had no choice but to donate leftover food to charitable causes, if they didn’t comply they would face a fine of $4500 (R67 500).
As individuals we are not completely blameless and we are so proud that South Africa has implemented a home composting programme (suspended at the moment due to Covid-19) in order to encourage all of us to compost at home . When you compost your own waste and don’t send it off to landfills it will not produce the dangerous greenhouse gases and actually help the environment by making more fertile soil which leads to carbon sequestration.
If South Africa legislation moved forward with food waste in mind and how to redistribute this waste to our 6.6 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from then we can not only help our planet and her overflowing landfills but also our people!
As for the FreshKills landfill, well that actually has a happy ending, sort of. Visiting the old landfill today you will not see a scrap of rubbish, only native grasses and returning wildlife, as it is being rebranded as FreshKills park. A beautiful park with 150 million tons of rubbish underneath, this is a perfect example of how we tend to sweep our environmental problems under the rug. As people and as a nation we need to put our collective minds together to come up with creative solutions on how we can solve our environmental issues now, instead of putting them off for future generations to deal with.
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