The developing nations of the world are slowly moving along the same ‘industrial revolution’ processes as their first world counterparts, in a bid to improve their economic and social status. Countries like China and India tend to provide the widest range of economic growth matched with enormous poverty and class disparities. The under-developed world is seen as a negative state of being, compared with the developed first worlds players like Sweden, Norway, Canada and so on. However, these people are using less carbon and lead far more sustainable lifestyles then the materialistic west. That is not to say some of their practices are best but a lot can be learned to improve our own sustainability.
Here are some lessons from developing countries on 3 unsustainable household products and their alternatives.
The Pad problem
The Western world provides a full spectrum of sanitation services. Toilets are available, mostly clean and connected to treatment and water networks. Availability of these services allow women in developed countries to have an easier time dealing with their menstrual cycles, however this process is highly wasteful! During a women’s life cycle, it is estimated that 16 000 pads/tampons are used supporting a $718 million industry (1). Surveys carried out in 2014 highlighted tampons and applicators as 6% of the ocean waste – You can just see the heap!
However, in the third-world many women don’t have a choice but to fashion their own pads and many charities work in these countries to help these women by providing them with re-washable cloth pads or moon/jasmine cup products. For the financially and environmentally conscious women, numerous products have become available on the western market. For the sustainable thinker, it is important to encompass the ‘green’ approach in all aspects of your life, including hygiene ones! Products range from sterile pliable plastic cups known as the moon or jasmine cup to washable pad cloths.
Bottled ‘tap’ water
Bottled water is commonly available in numerous food and shop outlets, even in places where tap water is drinkable and safe. The bottled water industry is a huge player, generating over $100 billion in income annually!(2) In an era of environmental concern, its concerning that so many people still consume bottled water, especially as the production of bottled water uses 3 times the amount of water to produce it. Plastic waste is also incredibly harmful; specifically as it takes thousands of years to degrade in the environment and much of those that are supposedly ‘recycled’ get sent to foreign countries for recycling or around 80% goes to landfill. This combination creates a high carbon footprint outside of the consideration for the fossil fuel usage in the production, distribution and disposal of these bottles.
With cost a factor in a tough economic climate and plenty of re-usable bottles available, why are so few people seen swigging from reusable bottles? In America the average consumption of bottled water is 21 gallons per person annually. Bottled water consumption has gone up 10% globally each year, and continues to increase (3). Most bottled water comes from tap water and it is no safer then tap water to drink and can cost the equivalent or more then a bottle of coke. There is plenty of potential out there, where people can choose from stainless versus re-usable plastic bottles, filter pitchers and even carbonators for those who may enjoy soda and sparkling water.
The average baby goes through 2.5 thousand disposable diapers annually at a cost of $600 per baby(4). Disposable diapers are a primarily a paper pulp product and up until the 1970’s the only useable products were the cloth diaper. Disposable diapers have become a huge burden for landfills in recent years and are estimated to take up to 500 years to degrade. In the UK alone disposable diapers contribute 8 million products to landfill daily and an estimated 7 billion tonnes of global waste per year. Like pads, diapers became commonplace in most developed countries due to ease of use and cleanliness. They create a huge problem in disposal and are highly unsustainable in use.
Women in developing nations are still using the cloth or cloth diaper and some even allow for full freedom of neither a cloth nor disposable diaper. The cost of using a disposable diaper per month can be in the realm of $50 – $80 and in some third world countries, the locals have no way to dispose of them. Cloth diapers are becoming better and more sustainable, new designs see renewable diapers fitted with poppers and velcro for comfort and leakage and be cleaned through a diaper laundry services or in your own home. More sustainable attitudes need to be incorporated into child care and using cloth or similar diapers is a very good place to do this.