The title is the hashtag for a course I’ve just started with Future Learn and Nottingham University. It’s a MOOC called Sustainability, Society and You. The course opens with a provocative triplet of questions, but offered as a “one-or-the-other” poll. Given the complexity of the questions it is near impossible to select one over the other – something I’m sure that is designed into the course in order to make the students think. The course looks interesting and with luck I’ll finish it – something I’ve failed on a couple of occasions with other MOOCs as life priorities intervened.
So, the questions, and the response and brief explanatory comments I gave.
Which is better for the environment – incineration of waste, or disposal via landfill?
Landfill: Space for landfill is limited hence intrinsically valueable, This promotes recycling to reduce total sent on to landfill. Climate change gases from landfill can be extracted for local energy generation. Such containment would reduce the issue of vermin – seagulls, rats – as the facility would be covered over. Incineration can also provide energy but less than normal power stations as the priority is to reduce waste to ash rather than provide boiler friendly heat. Incinerators are even more unwelcome to local residents than landfill sites. Emissions from incinerators are highly ash and particulate heavy and require intensive screening, as well as producing toxic gases, radiation and mercury emissions. Incinerating also demotivates any push to recycle waste since the capital costs of the plant mean it must keep burning waste. Recycling is the only viable option, with that which cannot be recycled such as food waste unsuitable for animal feed being composted or put through anaerobic digestion from which methane can be harvested.
Which do you think is more sustainable? Drying your hands with hot air dryers or using paper towels?
Hot Air Dryers: This was something I recognised, having read a study by MIT in America. Both are pretty equal, until you get to our local genius James Dyson and his Airblade. This seems to rewrite the rules, mainly because it doesn’t use heat as much as air force, and also does the job in shorter time, more than halfing electricity use. Even then it requires one to make assumptions about hand drying frequency. At some of my workplaces, there are hardly any people on site from one month to the next. Installing any electric hand dryers in these places cannot be sustainable in comparison with paper towels, and indeed in many of these locations the hot air dryers have been switched off by visiting staff and paper towels deployed. In other places we have paper towels with a large number of people on site… at least some of them emptying the bins full of waste paper towels!
If you have the option of using a dishwasher, do you think it is more sustainable than washing up by hand?
Dishwasher: Given the possession of the dishwasher (ignoring the material, manufacture, transportation and fitting costs) the dishwasher uses less hot water, and the production of heat for that water is more efficient than might normally be produced from a hot tap. The chemicals in the dishwasher are smaller, and may be in tablet form, whereas the hand wash is likely to be in a plastic bottle, itself recyclable but a part of the overall environmental cost. Dishwashers can be set to work at different temperatures, some very hot for intensive cleaning, while hand washing of the same dirty dishes might take several bowls of water in order to achieve the same standard of cleanliness. Hand washed dishes may need to be washed and dried using cloths which themselves would then need regular cleaning. Studies have shown that dish drying towels harbour excessive numbers of bacteria, and continued health must be a factor in sustainability.
These are only my thoughts, tapped into the screen as I had them, slightly amended with links for this blog. You may not agree (that’s fine). Say so, and tell me why.
Hashtag #FLsustain is used for this course on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Check us out.