How many materials do we come across with in our daily life? Some of them are directly obtained from nature, with light or no treatment at all, as wood, but the greatest part is much more sophisticated and needs the raw material to be manifactured to the complete alteration of its structure, as paper or glass. While few others are completely sinthetic, like plastic materials.
What those treatments consist of? By now we know which questions we have to wonder.. What are the production processes? Are they polluting? What do they need? Metals? Chemicals? How much water? How much energy? And at the end of their life, where do they end up?
Wait a minute, one by one…
All of the answers to these questions are included in the so called “Product Life Cycle”: all products go through different stages – gathering of raw materials, transformation, development, use, and finally decline – and each stage has its costs and risks, and individual products differ in how long they remain at any of the life cycle stages. The final price of the product, in other words the price we see at the supermarket, should account for the costs of every stage, included the social and environmental costs. In fact, many products that we commonly use have high environmental costs, in terms of pollution or water used. Just to mention some examples, the cost to reclaim soils or water bodies from chemicals released to paint tissues, or the cost of the erosion and habitat degradation in mining and drilling sites. Even the cost of the disposal of products themselves should be included, since the “lay out” of commodities should take into account of how to do it. Should.
Talking about disposal, eventually what is being done with those products? For every object, made of any material, at a certain point “that” moment comes, when it gets too old, worn out, broken or useless. It is thrown in the dustbin and becomes a waste. And what comes after the dustbin? Well, actually nothing that surprising or innovative, indeed a “bigger dustbin” dig in earth and covered on top: a landfill. But wastes remain there for hundreds, even thousand years, especially some materials. Can we consider to dig, bin by bin, all our available lands? Of course we can’t. The alternative is lighting a bonfire, the so called waste-to-energy industry. It is usually implemented by incinerators and it’s a first try of thinking wastes as a valuable, not without high social, environmental and human health costs. Here comes the importance of recycle, a word that didn’t need a name before the XX century. It has been used in the context of waste management just since 1960s. Wastes can really be considered as valuables in the good production industry, especially in the perspective of a growing urbanised society, where the urban waste is multiplying at the same rate the society grows. Whether recyclable household waste is recycled has implications for greenhouse gas emissions, as producing new objects from recovered materials often saves energy, in addition to reducing rapid exploitation of natural resources, minimizing other pollutants, and – not to be undersized – creating new jobs.
Also industrial and commercial businesses are starting to get into the new “circular economy”. At least half of waste is generated outside households, and the sources are myriad: manufacturing of all stripes, construction sites, mines, energy and chemical plants, stores, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, sports and music venues, schools, hospitals, prisons, airports, and more. They are all sites of use and discharge of many kinds of waste, not all but many of them can find a second life. Many companies begin to redirect the linear flows that start with raw materials and end at landfills and incinerators, making the industrial system function more like an ecosystem instead. By reducing material use to begin with and recycling and reusing waste, they can reduce greenhouse emissions from extracting, transporting, and processing raw materials. And because the global economy currently uses far more of these materials far more quickly than the Earth can regenerate, such practices address parallel challenges of resource scarcity.
Every kind of waste needs to be treated differently, in order to become a new commodity – as for papers or plastic bottle – or be used in other production or building processes – as for some kind of glass and plastic materials reused in the production of street asphalt – and that’s the reason why it’s fundamental to sort properly every material and send it to the concerning recycling process. With particular reference to special wastes, whose integral materials are rare or dangerous in nature, as batteries (containing lead), light bulbs (containing mercury), e-waste (containing several metals and minerals that can be even reused to produce other electronic items), and many others.
A little daily gesture for everyone of us means a lot for the environment… so, for us again!
Game about materials:
Enjoy our memory game online! To play, connect to the website www.educaplay.com and search “ZNPWorldEEDay2018 #7 Materials” or use the link here https://www.educaplay.com/en/learningresources/4066929/znpworldeeday2018_7_materials.htm
Game about wastes:
Enjoy our quiz about wastes and recycle on Kahoot. What to do to play:
- Download the free app “Kahoot!” on your smartphone or connect to the website www.kahoot.com
- Sign up/Log in
- Enter the PIN 069553 or use the link https://kahoot.it/challenge/069553
- Start the challenge!
From October 14th to 26th, every day you’ll find here, and on our Facebook and Instagram pages, funny quizzes and games online to know more about environmental issues. You can play everywhere and whenever you want. Follow the anniversary!
Elisa, EVS volunteer form Erasmus+
(data from Drawdawn, Penguin Books, 2017)