The crime of waste

Assembly – Waste – delivered to Bradford Grammar School, 8 Oct 2015

Feel free to adapt / edit / try out this assembly at your educational establishment.

[Start with ‘crime scene’ on stage]

What’s the world’s most serious crime?

Drug dealing? Murder? Mass murder? Torture? Terrorism?

In Year 8 Geography we discussed this question as part of our studies into where and why crime takes place.

We decided that to classify as ‘serious’ the crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

I received several answers similar to the ones I just gave until one made me stop in my tracks:

‘Overuse of the world’s resources’

This really got the conversation going!  That’s not a crime!  Who is affected?  You can’t go into prison for that!

But we approached it logically, and tested it out against the criteria mentioned above:

The crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

__________________________

Firstly, the severity of the harm caused.  Well, it’s not as severe as murder or torture, but let’s consider the waste and the by-products of energy generation used to make the things which end up as waste.  Well, these often cause injury, disease, and premature death.  Just think, for instance, of water pollution from factories soil contamination from the degradation of waste in landfill sites

and air pollution, which leads to asthma, breathing difficulties and climate change.

Secondly, the number of people affected by the waste – well these can be measured in the billions – 7.3 billion in fact – as we’re all affected in some way by the problems that I’ve just mentioned.

Thirdly, we can be affected by waste for a very long time indeed.  Not only are many non-biodegradable items taking up valuable land, but we are still dealing now with the problems caused by toxic metals leaching into groundwater.   In addition, the thermal inertia of the oceans means that there is a 25-50 year time lag between increased levels of CO2 and the oceans warming up by a corresponding amount – the oceans will continue to expand for decades to come, resulting in rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

_____________________________________

I could go on.  But if waste is a serious crime, then who are the criminals?  Who are the victims?  And who are the police?

Who are the criminals?  I’m a criminal.  I buy things I don’t need.  I throw things away.  I fly.  I forget to turn things off.  In a way, we are all criminals.  A sobering thought.

________________________________________

Who are the victims?  Well, I’ve begun to answer that one already.  The ones who suffer the most are the most vulnerable in society.

People who have breathing difficulties suffer from air pollution.

People who drink water from polluted watercourses in the countries where our goods are made.

And people who live on the coast in low-lying countries like Bangladesh, who are suffering from rising sea levels and coastal flooding thanks to climate change.

But we all suffer in a way.  Consider the financial angle.

Do you know what this represents?  (Point to a pile of waste)  A year’s waste per person in this room.  As a school last year we created 780 tonnes of solid waste.  Much of this is institutional waste like building rubble.  But much of it is food. Paper.  Plastic containers.  That’s 650kg per person – that’s two-thirds of a tonne for every pupil, teacher and other staff who work here.  Two-thirds of a tonne – that’s almost the weight of a SMART car!  The government charges £80 a tonne for putting our waste into landfill – so about £55 of each of your fees disappears into the ground!  We use £100,000 per year in electricity.  And over £100,000 in gas.  Much of this is unnecessary – so we’re pretty much throwing away money!  Money which could be used to invest in new facilities, reducing fees, and going towards new bursaries.  What a waste.

_______________________________________

So we are the criminals and the victims of this crime – a strange situation indeed.  But who are the police?  Weirdly, we all are – or at least we all can be.  We can help to prevent the crime which we commit and which we all suffer from.  What do I mean by ‘we’?

In the broadest sense, ‘we’ can mean the government elected by you and your parents.  OK – they have belatedly brought in a plastic bag charge (on Monday this week!) – and initiatives like the landfill tax I just mentioned.  But we can’t leave it to them.

How about the school?  Talking to the bursar and the estates manager, it’s apparent that some pretty big strides have been made in recent years to reduce waste here.  Most of these ways are behind the scenes.

Did you know that through the fitting of LED lights and motion sensors, the school has shaved £40,000 from its electricity bill in the past year?  That’s fifty PCs.  Or 6,000 textbooks.  Or four bursaries.  There are even some new ‘Dali’ lights which adjust to the amount of sunlight coming in through the window.

We recycled over 30 tonnes of waste last year – saving the school £2,400 in landfill taxes – although this is only 4% of our total waste – can you help to improve on this?

And did you know that heating the water in the swimming pool now costs 12% less that it did last year, thanks to a liquid which has been pumped into the water, which rises to the top when ripples have settled, forming an insulating layer just one molecule thick?

And simple measures have been taken by our head chef to reduce waste in the dining hall, by installing recycling bins and reusing leftovers in soups and other meals?

But we shouldn’t stop there.  How about you?  What can you do to prevent the crime of waste?

(Could show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptp6JGAF3o0 at this point.)

So, here’s a small checklist of easy things you can do…

  • Turn lights off
  • Turn computers off
  • Recycle your waste paper and plastic containers
  • Refill water bottles rather than buying new ones
  • Only select what you are going to eat at lunch

These may only be small steps, but together we can make a difference – and we can all benefit.  Here and at home.  Now and in the future.

And finally, spread the word.  Waste is costly, waste is harmful – waste is criminal.

Thank you.

Author: alcockblog

Optimist, Geography teacher, teaching and learning champion, interested in progress, social and environmental sustainability and outdoor learning. Father, orienteer, fell runner. @DavidAlcock1

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