The big question on the minds of ecologists and economists world over, as well as people from every walk of life, is how to manage all of the waste we are producing. With many times more people on the planet than any other time in history and numbers continuing to rise, it is clear that the current methods of dealing with garbage simply aren’t working. So let’s take a quick look back.
In antiquity, waste management was never a big issue. That’s because almost everything created was either biodegradable or made for generations of reuse. People couldn’t afford to buy or make a replacement for a poorly built tool every year. Likewise, food was grown locally and any food waste returned to the soil. Even now in developing countries, they continue to use the methods of their ancestors, dumping waste next to the road outside villages. This method never failed in the past since that waste was 100% biodegradable.
But that all has changed with the cheap mass-production of metals and plastics, derived from crude oil and non-degrading. Plastic packaging, rubber, batteries and electronics, and oil containers are examples of things now used worldwide even in poorer countries. Sophisticated industrial waste management machinery is too expensive to afford in these countries, and the old methods are no longer working.
To combat this problem, we need to explore new ways of reusing and recycling. This will benefit us all, both in developing and already wealthy nations. Modern recycling plants are an expensive solution and still only make up a small percentage of waste management in the United States today. Now more than ever we all need to take this seriously and innovate. It must be remembered that we live in a world of limited resources, but unlimited ways in which to use them!
Reduce and Reuse
Many great ideas have been introduced for product reuse and reduction. Carrying your own reusable shopping bags to the store. Paying a bit more for quality machinery that can be used for generations, instead of a few years. Investing in food sources that use minimal packaging. Buying locally produced products. Taking care of our cell phones so we can make them last longer. Stop using disposable razors and diapers. And there are many, many more. Make sure you are making use of as many as possible!
Finally, manual systems such as waste pickers and composters should not be discouraged. In developed countries, this may seem unsanitary, but if we keep our rotting foodstuff separate from our other garbage, waste pickers can play a clean and vital role in post-industrial society.
As mentioned earlier, recycling plants can sometimes be too expensive for developing countries, but inversely, they can serve as a source of employment for so many. We must find a way to conquer the cost hurdle and make opening plants an economically feasible option worldwide.
Finally, let’s all work to develop a sense of community to collect our recyclable goods. These include our plastics, paper and cardboard, glass, tin cans, and other metal scraps. And while the curbside collection is convenient, there are also other methods of collection, such as drop-off centers and buy-back centers, which can both be made easily accessible as part of our daily commutes.
Remember, our planet, our global citizens, and our children are relying on us.