[SKRIVA] Essä till Ridley-priset

  • From: Ahrvid Engholm <ahrvid@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <skriva@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:15:09 +0200

Fick inga kommentarer till första utkastet till min essä till Ridleypriset (ett 
brittiskt pris instiftat för essäer kritiska till s k miljöpolitik - se info 
postad tidigare på SKRIVA). Så jag antar att min artikel var bra från början!  
Icke desto mindre har jag putsat och ändrat i den, och nedan är sista versionen 
(antagligen med en del kvardröjande småfel, ty sådant finns alltid). 
Kommentarer välkomna. Artikeln handlar om det meningslösa i denna vurm för 
sopsortering, ett jätteslöseri med tid och resurser som jag menar betyder 
ofantligt litet i "miljöhänsyn". Samtidigt slänger butiker tusentals ton mat 
till ingen nytta. (Returglas osv är väl OK. I övrigt bör sopstationer mekaniskt 
sortera och resten brännas för att ge elektricitet. Människor skall inte 
pådyvlas det maskiner gör effektivare.)


Never in the Field of Environmental Wastefulness Has so Much Effort
Meant so Little

An evening during one
of the recent harsh winters in Stockholm ? they are getting colder
and snowier ? I saw an old lady struggle with two big bags. She was
walking slowly and with much effort to one of the so called recycling
stations all over the Swedish capital.
  The pavement was icy
and covered with several inches of snow. She nearly slipped several
times. The city council has cut down on ploughing and sanding,
persuaded by the environmentalist dominated media that winters are a
thing of the past. And I thought: what if this dear old lady falls
and breaks a leg? It would cost tens of thousands in hospital
treatment, for sure.
  Suddently a fancy,
heavy SUV ? a stock broker? a bankman? - stopped by the long row of
recycling containers, driver emerging and tossing a few bags into the
different containers. From the car I would guess his work was worth
perhaps a thousand an hour. (Using local currency. SEK 7  = USD 1.)
Shouldn't he rather than every week spending hours sorting garbage
and drive away with it, use his valuable time analysing the economic
crisis and doing something about it? And how much petrol does his big
car consume, by the way?
  Those green shrines
of environmental worship aren't only in Stockholm. Every city and
town has them. As far as I know, they're all over Europe. There were
big headlines when in one town it was shown that after the
?environmentally conscious? citizen had sorted the trash, the
garbage was all thrown together again and simply burned. It's
probably common, I'd think.
  Do we really ?save?
anything, especially Earth, by this trash sorting? Are we really
short of wood pulp, glass and metals? Is it worth it compared to the
billions of hours citizens spend sorting and transporting, time that
could put to better use?
  Paper comes from
trees and we won't run out of trees. The world's forest cover
increases, thanks to urbanisation. Iron and aluminium are among the
most common elements in Earth's crust. Glass comes from sand ? any
shortage of sand reported lately? OK, plastic comes from oil ? but
not necessarily; it can also be made from other materials. But the
plastic is usually only burned anyway.
  So what is the point
of all the efforts? A Good Citizen probably spend hours each week
contemplating what trash should go in which bag, and then driving it
to the recycling station, only half a mile away -  if you're lucky.
Is it just a symbolic thing? Forcing people to perform meaningless
deeds to make them ?environmentally aware??
  There was an uproar
in the TV sofas when a lady was criminally charged for leaving a used
frying pan outside the metal recycling container, since it was full
or the pan was to big for the container hole. You see, the town had
hired garbage spies that sat nearby and discovered her unforgettable
crime. How much are garbage spies paid an hour? How much is a person
worth for an hour's work?
  Statistics say,
calculated straight from GDP/capita, each Swedish citizen earn an
average of SEK 152/work hour. Say that everyone spends 1 hour/week
sorting and transporting for recycling, an estimate probably much on
the low side. That's 52 hours/year, a work worth SEK 7902 /year or ca
USD 1130/year. In Sweden alone, one of the smaller countries, that
means a billion dollars/year is wasted ? on waste. How much is it
world wide? I'd guesstimate at least 100 billions.
  It could be more.
Those most enthusiastic about the environmental thing tend to be
upper-middle class, earning significantly more than average, the
well-off with fancy cars that can afford to believe that mankind is
?destroying the Earth? with ?our? (their) standard of living,
No thought there for the poor of the world that craves for economic
growth to get a decent life. The suburbian house-with- lawn owners
just go on with their lives as if symbolic garbage sorting rituals
make any difference.
  And those recycling
stations are usually a stinking mess. There's food left in the cans
and packing waste. Rats and flies think it's yum-yum. Bacteria too.
How many infections and how much disease is spread by putting garbage
containers around openly on the streets? The city council complains
that rats are becoming more numerous. Do they ever consider why? How
many sickdays does this potential health hazard cause? Also, the
recycling stations means we have to pay for two parallel garbage
collection systems. The usual garbage collection directly from the
households goes on. More extra work hours wasted and extra costs.
  Some recycling that
makes sense. For many decades we've taken our cans and bottles to the
supermarket ? where you go anyway - to get our deposits back. It's
usually not much effort to seperate drink containers, go to the
supermarket to get some money back and the system works well. In
Sweden around 90% of cans and bottles are returned. Supermarkets also
have small containers for used batteries that may contain mercury;
battery volumes are so small that such recycling isn't much of an
effort either.
  We also have
electronics, though a tiny fraction in volume compared to food
containers, bottles etc. Some want old electronics to extract the
small amounts of copper, even gold and other metals from it. If
there's real value in it the markets will take care of getting
recycling done, but personally I think that decent, old electronics
should be re-used as it is. Ship working computers and mobiles to the
poor of the world.
  Paper has
traditionally been recycled. For hundreds of years we had lump
collectors ? it was a profession ? since paper in older times was
made from old clothes. Lump collection was later transformed into
collecting ordinary paper, but directly from the doors of the
households, not stinking containers in the streets. But it wouldn't
really matter if paper goes to the garbage dump processing ? 
plants will burn it to extract some energy from it. Plastic burns
well too.
  Here's my swift,
modest proposal: We take bottles and cans and batteries to the
supermarket, as usual. Let the Salvation Army or someone ship still
decently working computers and mobiles to the poor. The rest goes to
the household trash and is burned for energy at the garbage dump,
with metal and glass mechanically separated. Why spend billions of
hours on things machines do better?
  The huge resources
wasted by ordinary citizens spending evenings sorting trash, should
be used for updating garbage dumps that still don't generate
electricity or mechanically separate heavy material. Machines are our
  People would have
more free time, which would make them happier and they could spend
more on creative things worth money. Society in general would
benefit, getting more of the economic growth that the poor need since
less effort is wasted on meaningless things.
  Ironically, while the
posh people waste their time on meaningless sorting rituals there's
real, useful waste being thrown away without any thought of all.
Supermarkets throw away thousands of tons of perfectly good food. I
don't know about laws in other countries, but I understand wasting
good food en masse is very commong in at least the Western world. In
Sweden food has a rather narrow ?Best Before? date. ?Best
Before? means ?Quite Good for Some Time More?. It's usually
perfectly fresh and safe for some time after ?Best Before? ?
but still it's thrown away by the supermarkets.
  There's an
international movement of ?dumpster divers?, young students and
others breaking into the containers and taking care of the wasted
food. They call themselves ?freegans? but will only find a tiny
percentage of the wasted food. Most of it go straight to the garbage
  Why can't it be sold
by the supermarket for a reduced price? Perfectly good food worth
billions go to waste, which would benefit the poor. There are of
course poor also in Western societies, who'd be happy to save money
on vegetables or cheese that's one day older than some pencil-pusher
has decided it ?should? be.
  And in a strange
twist, while supermarket owners who throw away food they shouldn't,
they still ?recycle? food they shouldn't. Meat tend to be more
expensive and there have been an ongoing scandal for years when
supermarket owners have been caught red-handed with re-labeling the
?Best Before? dates on old meat products. Old meat where bacteria
thrives may be a health hazard. Year after year undercover reporters
placing secret marks on meat packages have revealed how supermarkets
routinely do this potentially dangerous re-labeling. Afterwards they
always promise to stop, but don't. The food safety authority does
nothing. Obviosuly, it's more important to employ garbage spies to
catch a woman with an illegal frying pan.
  Let's not even go
into the thousands of tons of perfectly good fish thrown overboard
dead by frustrated fishermen, who can't land the catch because of
quota regulations. It's throwing away good food before it could come
to any use. And I can't see killing fish to throw it overboard
benefits the fish stock. It seems political regulations a bit too
often force people to do the wrong thing, artificially creating
higher prices, lots of frustration and time waste, and possible
health hazards.
  We all lose. We lose
time. We lose food. We lose money. My thoughts go back to that dear
old lady who struggled through the snow and ice with her recycling
bags for no good at all.

--Ahrvid Engholm
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