We screened the premiere of Bag It in 2009, and artist Chris Jordan has appeared with his “Running the Numbers” series at the festival, so Mountainfilm in Telluride audiences are no stranger to the concept of waste in its many forms, but it’s a topic worth revisiting periodically, especially with mind-boggling statistics.
Let’s start with the basics: According to “Wasting Away: Our Garbage by the Numbers” — a Mother Nature Network story that’s worth a glance because we can’t cite the entire staggering compilation of stats here — the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash every day. From plastics to paper, we produce 1,600 pounds annually per person. Of course much of that trash can be recycled (60 percent), but only 13 percent actually finds its way into the recycling stream. Plastics, as exposed by Bag It, fill our oceans (50,000 pieces of plastic are estimated to float within every square mile of the world’s oceans), and 9,960 pieces of junk mail get produced, delivered and tossed every three seconds in the U.S.
But beyond the actual garbage, there are edibles: Scientific American recently reported in “Clean Your Plate, Save the World?” that 30 to 50 percent of the food produced in the world goes uneaten, which means every year “each person throws away almost 400 pounds of food, the weight of an adult male gorilla.” This Reuters graph shows that “food scraps comprise by far the largest percentage of municipal solid waste, after recycling.”
In wealthier countries, food waste is usually either a matter of gluttony or fussiness: We buy too much to eat, or produce ends up in the landfill because it’s not pretty enough for retail. (How embarrassing.) Other culprits include high prices and confusing “sell by” (as opposed to “use by”) dates. In other nations, poor refrigeration and food transport are often the cause of spoiled edibles.
Sustainable farming has gained traction in many parts of the world, but perhaps the next step is to focus on sustainable eating and storage.