Thursday November 21, 2019

Garbologists find roots of modern waste by digging through Victorian-Era garbage

In the Victorian Era, the civilization made a permanent shift towards a throwaway society, and the production of waste only began to increase from this point in the timeline

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Victorian era Mineral bottles. Image source: Tom Licence
  • Garbology is the “study of a culture or community by analysis of its waste”
  • The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, West London boasts a collection of 12,000 unique items like cartons, boxes, paper cups tins etc
  • The Victorian era also marked the rise of the packaging industry

East Anglia, a rural area north of London, became a place of historical interest for Tom Licence and his research team, What East Anglia Threw Away, early 2016, when a scavenging streak for Victorian Era trash gripped their minds. “We’re aware that there’s a dump close to the cottage, and that’s part of our interest, but also we’ve set up a little history group, and we’ve been working on the history of Castle Rising ever since”, says Sylvia Cooke, who came to East Anglia about 14 years ago.

“We are pioneering garbologists”, says Tom Licence with a friendly laugh. Garbology is the “study of a culture or community by analysis of its waste”. The Victorian Era, which spanned through the years of 1837 till 1901, witnessed a crucial shift of consumer patterns – with an increase in wealth and the Industrial Revolution, the civilization shifted from making things at home to buying them at grocery markets and shops. This era also marked the rise of the packaging industry.

As people began to gain awareness about germs and hygiene, they became distrustful of local vendors and grocers,some of whom added spurious ingredients to increase the weight of the product. A packaged product guaranteed it hadn’t been tampered with, and hence more trustworthy. Moreover, it also ensured that the manufacturers were able to design and control their own brand. The means of packaging then involved bottles and tins, or small containers which couldn’t be reused and hence found their way into what is now called as Victorian Era trash.

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The importance of collecting and preserving garbage from those olden days was cleverly identified by Robert Opie, a social historian, who founded the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, West London. The museum boasts a collection of 12,000 unique items like cartons, boxes, paper cups tins etc. which documents the progression of brands of some of the world’s most popular companies like Cadbury. The museum assumed a larger space recently to accommodate the growing interest. The colour on these packaging materials dim as war years are approached, The Guardian reports. “It’s a portal into your own past”, Robert Opie says.

Victorian Era
Dundee Marmalade tin containers. Image courtesy: Tom Licence

In the Victorian Era, the civilization made a permanent shift towards a throwaway society, and the production of waste only began to increase from this point in the timeline. Before this time, humans produced next to no waste at all. In large cities like London, there was a systematic disposal of waste, but in the rural areas like East Anglia, it wasn’t economical to supply ash carts to every household, so the people here would dig up pits in nearby areas and bury their waste there. This is one of the primary reasons why Tom Licence and his local volunteers targeted East Anglia.

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Tom Licence also has knowledge of similar findings all over the world. There have been people from California and India who show an interest in Garbology. A worker digging up the Earth for the construction of the Olympic Stadium in Brazil found packaging products that originated all the way from England. Licence believes this was the time when trade flourished, and the human carbon footprint made its stamp on the face of the Earth for the first time in history.

Discoveries made by garbologists in England have helped them analyse the living patterns of the civilizations in the British subcontinent, dating all the way back to the Victorian Era. If similar expeditions were to be carried out in all places over the world, it would help us comprehend a much better understanding of how humans led their lives in respective countries, and that would indeed be interesting to the historian palette.

-by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter:@saurabhbodas96

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  • I coined the word garbology to mean the study of the garbage of the rich and famous but you folks are doing a great job in retro-garbological pioneering. Congratulations!

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Reckless Disposal Of Plastic Is The Real Issue: Expert

The usage of plastic is not an issue, but its reckless disposal is a major problem

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Disposal of Plastic
The reckless disposal of plastic by stakeholders is the real issue. Pixabay

BY SHARON THAMBALA

The increasing use of plastic in daily life is not a problem, but it’s reckless disposal by stakeholders is the real issue, claimed an industry expert.

“Plastic becomes a problem to deal with when it is irresponsibly disposed and ends up where it should not,” said Saudi petrochemical giant Sabic executive Janardhanan Ramanujalu in an interview to IANS in this tech hub.

Ranked among the world’s top firms in the petrochemical sector, the Riyadh-based Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), owning $85 billion worth assets is a diversified firm, active in chemicals and intermediates, industrial polymers, fertilisers and metals.

“Plastic contributes to the earth and environment with products and services having lesser impact than other materials although it fuels pollution as a packaging material when not disposed scientifically,” said the Vice-President for the global firm’s operations in Australia, New Zealand and South Asia.

The executive came calling here to take stock of the firm’s India operations, including its technology centre for research in chemistry, material science, process engineering and analytics.

Defending the use of plastic in everyday life by individual to industrial users, Ramanujalu said the wrong way of disposing plastic comes out of ignorance despite computers, television sets, home appliances, air-conditioning and piping are all made with it.

“Nearly 99 per cent of plastic delivers great value to get into your cars, which cannot be rolled out without it. It is an important material that will play a vital role in improving the quality of life,” he asserted.

Plastic usage and disposal
People are ignorant towards the disposal of plastic waste. Pixabay

As elsewhere in the world, cars in India have become lighter, substituting heavy metals and enabling their manufacturers to produce them in compliance with the Bharat Stage VI norm, which is mandatory.

Bharat Stage emission norms were first introduced in India in 2000 by the government of India, aimed at reducing vehicular pollution by running them on fuel being made cleaner incrementally.

Bharat Stage VI emission norms will kick in from April 1, 2020.

“On the contrary, alternate materials such as aluminium, steel, iron and others cause negative fallout on the environment, consuming huge amounts of energy to mine, melt and ship them,” he said.

Noting that plastic delivers value even after outliving its utility through calorific value on incineration, the senior executive said, but burning it releases toxic fumes in the atmosphere.

“Incineration is a process by which energy is obtained, employing scientific methodology such as filtration, scrubbing and others. It is akin to burning a fossil fuel with calorific value,” he pointed out.

Though coal is considered a dirty fuel, it is used in thermal power plants where filters to check dust and ash are used with water scrubbers before it is let out as waste. The process has to be correct as there is a cost to it.

Plastic can be recycled chemically and mechanically and graded to turn it into an engineering material — Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) which finds application as insulators in electrical and electronics industries.

“You can’t only recycle the molecule but can chemically upscale it, as possibilities are many. It is peoples’ behaviour and the logistics how to make it happen. It is not a science issue anymore,” asserted Ramanujalu.

The company is a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a non-profit organisation, set up by 27 global firms, dedicated to help reduce mismanaged plastic waste in the environment.

The Alliance has a budget of $1.5 billion for five years, with the ambition to build infrastructure, innovate, educate and engage in the clean-up of plastic pollution.

The alliance cannot take up a challenge like clearing up France-sized Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean readily.

“Who will pay for it and which government wants it, as such issues are around. The problem is how does it (plastic waste) reach there, it is exposed to sun and becomes micro-plastic,” the executive said.

Giving a call to people to work to avoid a debacle like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Ramanujalu said by avoiding releasing plastic waste into the rivers, drains and sewage, the damage is contained.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, estimated to be as big as France in size. Most of the debris in the patch is plastic waste.

Lauding the government’s flagship mission like Swachh Bharat, a countrywide cleanup drive flagged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ramanujalu said people should have discipline, with small acts such as segregating waste at the origin itself.

“What companies like ours (Sabic) do? We cannot change the behaviour of every user who is responsible, the alliance we have is with the value chain to go out together and educate the rest,” Ramanujalu told IANS.

Plastic waste
Plastic waste should be recycled. Pixabay

The notion that only the poor do the dirty job of collecting and cleaning up plastic waste is a flawed assumption.

Citing a study, the honcho said it would require a person to bend down 3,000 times to collect 3 kg of plastic waste, ruling out nobody will be willing to commit to such drudgery.

“We all assume that it should be done by the poor. We have not developed supply chains for it (plastic waste) and we have not developed business models for it. We thought poverty will take care of recycling in India, Ramanujalu observed.

Creating a sustainable business model of scientifically collecting plastic waste and changing consumer behaviour are the need of the hour.

Incorporating a recyclable feature at the design stage of plastics is the new manufacturing philosophy.

Also Read- Union Environment Ministry Rolling out Anti-pollution Measures for Delhi NCR region

“One of the good things that will happen is plastics, which were not meant for recycling will get designed for it and not get discarded, he added.

Ramanujalu said the days of companies winning alone were over, as cooperation and collaboration being the mantra for success in the modern age. (IANS)