Everything we produce and consume impacts the economy, the environment, and social development; the world's current production and consumption patterns are the root causes of the triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. This crisis, together with related environmental degradation, threatens human well-being and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.
Current production and consumption patterns lead to deforestation, water scarcity, food waste, high carbon emissions, and cause the degradation of key ecosystems. Just look at some global data:
- In terms of production, between 2000 and 2019, total domestic consumption of materials increased by more than 65%. In 2020, governments spent $375 billion on subsidies and other support for fossil fuels.(1)
- In terms of consumption, it is estimated that 17% of total consumer food (931 million metric tons) is wasted in households, restaurants, and retail.(2)
- On the consumer side, households consume 29% of the world's energy and contribute 21% of the resulting CO2 emissions. (3)
In one way or another, all of us, as individuals or companies, are responsible for our consumption processes and, to some extent, also for our production processes. Still, we seldom realize this and act without thinking about the effects of waste of all kinds, pollution, water, and ecosystem problems.
Let's think specifically about the production and environmental criteria of companies. The UN's goal is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, i.e., to do more and better with less: to minimize the use of natural resources and toxic materials, as well as waste and pollutant emissions during the product's life cycle so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.
One practice, which is beginning to grow in production, is recycling and sustainable waste management, a set of experiences to reduce environmental impacts that include the reuse and recycling of materials, as well as composting of organic waste, which reduces the need for new resources and helps protect the environment from the impacts of resource extraction.
An example of what this implies is a biotechnology startup in Monterrey, Nuevo León, which develops green processes using living organisms (microalgae) to obtain clean water, oxygen, and high-value biomass in a circular, zero-waste process. Its founder, Ramón de Hoyos Cantú, says, "impact is not only measured by what you are doing but by how many lives you change, by the community. We started to develop products for people. Although we focus on water treatment and carbon capture, we also developed oxygen-generating lamps with algae, which provide the same amount of oxygen as a medium-sized tree.
In another example, the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa (Italy) developed a method for making bioplastics from plant waste such as rice husks, cocoa pods, spinach or parsley stalks, and carrot or cauliflower waste. The idea's origin stems from a modification of the method for producing cellophane from cotton and hemp cellulose, which led to the discovery of how a moldable plastic mass could be obtained by dissolving the vegetable matter in trifluoroacetic acid, without all the treatment normally used.
Sustainable waste management is not just recycling waste but using it to generate raw materials for other products, reducing the amount of toxic chemicals in the environment and the risks of health problems. It also generates economic gains, more waste management opportunities, increased government tax revenues, and support for businesses.
It is about decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency, and promoting sustainable lifestyles. It is to look beyond economic and financial performance and note that, for example, biomass, which includes all transformable organic matter of animal or plant origin, is an important resource that, without carbon emissions, can generate renewable energy. It is to enter into a circular economy of reintegration of waste into production.
Sustainable waste management practices can provide broad benefits for businesses and communities, such as: cost savings, improved environmental health, economic gains, reduced waste disposal costs, positive social impacts, and financial benefits, as well as protecting the environment. Implementing sustainable waste management practices can help ensure that our communities and businesses are more sustainable and resilient in the future.
Faced with a production model that has been proven to have devastating effects on the planet and does not provide equally for everyone, a change in production and consumption systems is imperative.
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