Monday, September 21, 2009

Flesh for Fuel?

Many have been debating the value of alternative energy originating from the sun, wind, water or more unique sources such as manure or even kitchen grease.

The use of waste products for energy seems a no-brainer, as it fits quite snugly into the “reuse” and “recycle” portions of the Green Three R’s. But what of British retail corporation Tesco’s plan to utilize 5,000 tons of expired meat in biomass plants in order to be converted into electricity? The energy created from this maneuver is equivalent to powering 600 homes for the period of a year.

Any vegetarian watching a half-eaten steak being tossed into the garbage wishes the meat suffered a different fate than to rot in a landfill. But 5,000 tons? Recycling this refuse is one solution to the problem, but begs the question: What about preventing the overage to begin with? Tesco clearly missed the “reduce” segment of the green guidelines.

Tesco defends their decision, declaring it to be, in fact, a green enhancement to their company’s practices. Tesco lauds the use of meat for fuel, claiming their responsible leadership will help fight climate change. This logic seems analogous to making a feast for 10 people though you’re only feeding two, then throwing the leftovers on a compost heap and declaring yourself an environmentalist.

Tesco also stated that meat waste only accounts for less than 1 percent of their total waste, and is a “miniscule” portion of meat sold. This is comforting in that it isn’t a greater percentage, but those sympathetic to animal rights don’t discern between 10 chickens and 10 million chickens, just as many wouldn’t argue that “only 10 people were killed” by a murderer.

Non-profit organization Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA) have responded with disdain, revealing that 5,000 tons of wasted meat is equivalent to almost 3 million chickens. Is 3 million chickens for 600 homes an even trade? How much energy was initially required to raise the livestock?

The era of egregious waste has gone the way of interest-only mortgages and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps we should add a forth “R” to the trio – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reason. Then Tesco would only be half right.

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