It’s Time to Throw Out the Throwaway Economy

The stresses in our early 21st-century civilization take many forms — social, economic, environmental and political. One distinctly unhealthy and visible illustration of all four is the swelling flow of garbage associated with a throwaway economy.

Throwaway products were first conceived following World War II as a convenience and as a way of creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be.

What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus, we have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable paper towels for hand towels, disposable table napkins for cloth ones, and throwaway beverage containers for refillable ones. Even the shopping bags we use to carry home throwaway products become part of the garbage flow.

The throwaway economy is on a collision course with the Earth’s geological limits. Aside from running out of landfills near cities, the world is also fast running out of the cheap oil that is used to manufacture and transport throwaway products. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is not enough readily accessible lead, tin, copper, iron ore or bauxite to sustain the throwaway economy beyond another generation or two. Assuming an annual 2 percent growth in extraction, U.S. Geological Survey data on economically recoverable reserves show the world has 17 years of reserves remaining for lead, 19 years for tin, 25 years for copper, 54 years for iron ore, and 68 years for bauxite.

The cost of hauling garbage from cities is rising as nearby landfills fill up and the price of oil climbs. One of the first major cities to exhaust its locally available landfills was New York. When the Fresh Kills landfill, the local destination for New York’s garbage, was permanently closed in March 2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to landfill sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Virginia — with some of the sites being 300 miles away.

Garbage travails are not limited to New York City. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, closed its last remaining landfill on Dec. 31, 2002, and now ships all its 750-thousand-ton-per-year garbage to Wayne County, Mich.

In Athens, the capital of ancient and modern Greece, the one landfill available reached saturation at the end of 2006. With local governments in Greece unwilling to accept Athens’s garbage, the city’s daily output of 6,000 tons began accumulating on the streets, creating a garbage crisis. The country is finally beginning to pay attention to what European Union environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, himself a Greek, calls the waste hierarchy, where priority is given first to the prevention of waste and then to its reuse, recycling and recovery.

One of the more recent garbage crises is unfolding in China, where, like everything else in the country, the amount of garbage generated is growing fast. Xinhua, a Chinese wire service, reports that a survey using an airborne remote sensor detected 7,000 garbage dumps, each larger than 50 square meters in the suburbs of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing. A large share of China’s garbage is recycled, burned or composted, but an even larger share is dumped in landfills (where they are available) or simply heaped up in unoccupied areas.

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model — the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy — is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2030 may have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.” And in an increasingly integrated global economy where we all depend on the same grain, oil and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy — one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. Can we build it fast enough to avoid a breakdown of social systems?

Source Article:  http://www.motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/Waste-Pollution-Disposable-Products.aspx

For more information on composting at home check out www.goodcompost.com

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