Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sustainable choices

Today I started a new course on Future Learn, it's called Sustainability, society and you. The course is just in its last week at the moment so make sure you sign up quickly if you're interested. I'm not sure I'll be able to finish it before it finishes but as I think it's an interesting topic I decided to at least have a go at it.

As you can probably imagine sustainability is a topic with a lot of different opinions, and this course gives you a lot of food for thought. I am still in the week 1 section of the course and there was a poll with 3 questions to answer, as well as giving reasons for your choices. After submitting my choices I was able to see the poll results. Not surprising, the votes were almost tied on every question. There was only one result that surprised me, which I will tell you about in a little bit.

The questions were as follows:

1. Which is better for the environment - incineration of waste, or disposal via landfill? 

This is the question I struggled the most with. Incineration or disposal via landfill of waste? It's a tricky one as, like everything, both have pros and cons. In the end I chose incineration.
  • Incineration can reduce the amount of waste in landfills by about 85%
  • Reduce toxic leakages from landfills into soil
  • It can make people lazy and stop them from recycling since it's all going to be burned anyway, and so it can lead to a waste of important and finite resources
  • Incineration can generate electricity and heat
  • Even though the modern incinerators use filters and processes to remove many of the harmful particulates and toxins from the hot flue exhaust gasses, they still don't filter out the smallest particles, which can cause health problems
I think the best is of course to reduce our waste, then incinerate what is possible to incinerate, and the rest gets recycled or goes to a landfill. It wouldn't be the most pleasant job to sort through the trash before it gets incinerated but at least it might "rescue" some of the important and finite resources. 

Or maybe people could get a separate bin for incineration? Just like we have a bin for recycling, garden waste and trash here in the UK we could have a 4th one for incineration, with a leaflet telling us what can go in it, like they do with the recycling bin. That way people will still hopefully recycle as well as reducing waste to the landfills.

2. Which do you think is more sustainable? Drying your hands with hot air dryers or using paper towels?

Another tricky one. 

I know paper towels are often more hygienic but I'm not sure about the environmental benefits. At first I wanted to say paper towels as they can be recycled, but then I realised they can't be as they will be dirty after use. 

I did end up saying hot air dryers are more sustainable. However, I do think that mostly applies if you're using a sustainable energy source to power it, like solar or wind power.

3. If you have the option of using a dishwasher, do you think it is more sustainable than washing up by hand?

Now, this is the one that surprised me, not the question but the poll results. Apparently more people think washing up by hand is more sustainable. To be completely honest I did believe that myself a few years ago, but think about it;

Washing up by hand usually means that you use more water. I don't have a dishwasher at the moment and I do find that, to avoid my kitchen counter looking messy, I do the dishes very often, thereby wasting a lot of water by filling the sink up every time I do the dishes. If you have a dishwasher you can put more dishes in it than you would leave on the counter (as they would be out of view) and it would only use one cycle of water for each time you used it.

The main reason people think washing up by hand is more sustainable is because the dishwasher uses electricity, but these days you can get very eco-friendly dishwashers, just remember to check the rating before you buy it. You can also power your home with sustainable energy and save the environment and your money that way.

What do you think? Which is more sustainable?

- Incineration or landfill? 
- Hot air dryer or paper towels? 
- Dishwasher or washing up by hand?

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