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There’s no such thing as rubbish in nature

How much do human beings need to be happy? Do more property and more consumption automatically mean greater happiness? Is this formula basically right or wrong? Are the answers in a village the same as in a city? Do people tend to be happier in their old age or during their youth? Is it correct that property, in other words HAVING, contributes more to happiness than the development of one’s own BEING? Or are the people among us happier who own less and consume less? Are people happier on their own or in a community of people? Is the formula HAVING + LOVING + BEING = HAPPINESS correct? Or do we find our happiness in a different way and elsewhere, namely individually, each one for themselves and in their own way? If that is the case, is throwing things away, the creation of rubbish, part of happiness, or is it rather the expression of one’s own unhappiness? Do we chuck something in the rubbish because we have forgotten that a life in harmony with our planet is also part of being happy? Why do we throw half of our foodstuffs out? Why do we in Portugal produce 400 kg of rubbish per person per year? How do we want to live? ECO123 asked nine people this and a number of other questions.

I you he she it, we you they. We are all throwing something away at this moment. It’s easy to say, isn’t it? Into the rubbish. Something away. Out of sight, out of mind. After me, the flood. Or maybe not? I’m standing in my kitchen collecting up the bottles from the past month. Eight empty wine bottles, and an empty bottle of olive oil. It’s the day I go to the glass container and clean up my apartment: bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen and study. I have also found a very practical solution for my used paper, which I will tell you about later. It’s only all the plastic packaging that gives me a bad conscience every time. What could I do, what solution could there be to do without all this plastic packaging? Shop differently? I can’t just unpack the packets of liquids like milk, including oat or soya milk, and leave it at the check-out in the organic produce shop. Go without? I’ve already removed yoghurt and its waste packaging from my shopping list, but not from my menu, because I now make yoghurt myself, once a week.


One step forwards, even if it’s just a small step, is after all the first step towards a somewhat more sustainable future. And every journey to a new world begins with the first step; it’s a journey that each individual can decide on for themselves, and you can go back again too, to look for new paths once again …

The shower gel and shampoo containers also end up in the plastic waste bin, just as the broken light bulb goes in the bin for special waste. And then? What happens to it next? Out of sight, out of mind?

I take the organic waste in a bucket to the compost heap, I do so almost every day. I call it a trip into my garden. But who can afford their own garden in a city, where every square metre is the subject of speculation?

The designer Marco Balsinha showed me an idea for disposing of organic waste in Lisbon. We meet at a café in Entrecampos. He demonstrates and explains to me how his Uroboro* composter works; it comprises four to five clay bowls, which are placed inside and on top of each other, and it turns any organic matter like kitchen waste into soil. In the process, you can watch how earthworms make good use of the potato and carrot peelings and turn it into humus…

It’s possibly asking a lot, but we want to be guided during our lives by something higher, because the reality of throwing things away cannot be the be-all and end-all. And so the question is this: is there a solution that we can all agree to about how we can reduce the volume of rubbish from our activities on earth to such an extent that we reach the stage of ZERO RUBBISH in the foreseeable future?


The so-called waste expert Miguel Ferreira from Faro is sceptical in this reagard, because rubbish is still part of the system these days, and part of his business. The company he represents earns its money from waste. It collects and sells waste paper, glass and plastic and employs 212 workers to do so, who mainly deposit, bury and seal up the rubbish from one industry, which runs its business in a linear fashion. Tourism in the Algarve is the biggest producer of rubbish in Portugal, says Miguel Ferreira. From a statistical point of view, each Algarvio is responsible for twice as much rubbish as the remaining population. More than 1,000 kilos of unsorted rubbish accumulate per person per year in the Algarve; it is then buried at the two landfill sites in Cortelha (Loulé) and Porto de Lagos (Portimão). You can read the interview with Miguel Ferreira on pages 23 to 29.

A linear economy, it’s called: boarding a low-cost airline and filling the atmosphere with CO2, getting into a hire car and burning petrol and diesel, checking into your hotel and wasting an average of 220 litres of precious water per holiday-maker per day, consuming food thoughtlessly and disposing of rubbish – in a system of tourism, where sun, sand and sea plus a little alcohol completely blot out any awareness of behaving in a sustainable manner.

And what would the alternative be to this kind of tourism? Staying at home, travelling less, consuming less, using less water, leaving less rubbish behind? How would that work? And what do we do with the unemployed waiting staff and room attendants from the restaurant and hotel industry? Hikers who get lost on a walk go back to the place where they went wrong. What would that mean for our economy and what would the significance of such a decision be? Returning to the crossroads where we went wrong?

C2C (Cradle to Cradle)

A cyclical economy and cyclical action are the passwords to a more sustainable type of economy in the future, which starts with each and every individual: on the one hand reducing the growth-oriented and unrestricted extraction and consumption of resources; on the other hand, the reuse, recycling and repair of products, especially of electrical and electronic devices and the consistent recycling of products.

Linked to these maxims is another way of thinking, about time. Because time isn’t money. People who travel should include their travelling time as holiday time. The solution? Avoid long-haul flights. Instead of going on holiday by plane, consider a rail journey. This may take a bit longer, but it saves up to 80% of the resources and emissions involved. A journey by public transport, by electric car or bicycle, or a hike, are good for one’s health, as well as for saving resources. As far as eating is concerned, ensure that all the ingredients in a meal are produced regionally and in an environmentally friendly manner, and are consumed in moderation.

Because only people who take sufficient time and act in moderation – because everything needs time – for an environmentally friendly trip with their family or alone, people who slow down and carefully consider their decisions, get more out of life. Perhaps it is right here that the path to happiness begins. With the question, How do we want to live, ECO123 is asking everyone who feels affected by this to pause for a moment and think about ways in which we could really implement the demand for ZERO WASTE. Because there is no such thing as rubbish in nature. Everything is recycled and transformed. Couldn’t we manage the same?

What would this mean in practice? One example: shred waste paper, newspaper, household paper, paper from the office – no plasticised paper. Soak the shredded paper in a bin with water and, after a week, it will have the consistency of porridge. Then small portions of the paper porridge are pressed into briquettes. Lay these in the summer sunshine and they dry to form briquettes that can be burned in your stove during the coming winter to heat your home. Paper recycling?


About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)


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