There’s a certain saying out there that is “waste not, want not.” The gist of it is to not buy or consume anything if you’re going to waste it. I was in an interesting conversation with my son-in-law the other day. He’s been in the clinical waste business for many years, and I began what would be a fairly long conversation by saying, “You know, in my lifetime we have always put our rubbish in a bin, or garbage can as they would say in the U.S., and it would seem as though it went straight into a black hole – it’s taken away from us into some abyss that we don’t have to worry about. Anyone that’s been in a waste disposal center however, knows that it doesn’t smell very pleasant. It’s the same with sewage treatment, which is also simply another form of waste.” We discussed this at length, how waste is not really part of our awareness in daily life and yet how intricate our waste disposal has become. I went on.
“It’s interesting really, that we have gotten this technologically advanced, we still haven’t gotten to the stage (which I’m really glad about) that we can find a planet to take our waste to, because if we could have done, we would have done it. I think we are getting to a point where most people are becoming aware that we cannot expand infinitely as we seem to be trying to do, as we are on a finite planet in terms of space, resources and capacity to hold living beings.” I speak of the finiteness of Earth quite a lot, as it is important for us to move forward with this in mind. I continued.
“These places where they put general waste are either in landfills or on top of landfills, or they burn it, creating vast amounts of pollution. With 7 billion people on earth now, we simply cannot ignore the subject of waste.”
It was interesting talking to my son-in-law as he then gave me some numbers which I’m pretty certain were close to this: When they have to dispose of waste to a landfill, they have to pay 30 pounds (45-50 dollars) per ton of waste that they want to have buried. Then they have to pay 64 pounds in tax to the government, so whatever the reasons for that is, whether it is noble in order to discourage waste from being created in the first place, or corrupt in order for the government to make more money from different kinds of taxes, I don’t really know. I suspect the latter, simply because most of the people who are creating the waste are not in direct contact with the fact that they have to pay more for more waste – therefore I don’t think that would be a disincentive considering they simply don’t know.
In my lifetime, waste management has ballooned into a multi-million pound business. There are some things emerging to do with waste, but the first step in my opinion for all of us no matter who we are or where we are, is for us to reduce our waste drastically, and to learn that we cannot keep consuming things in the way that we are currently doing so. The second point is to not put anything out and not consume it, as in putting a big meal out and not finish it. I suppose it would be different if people composted uneaten meals, but this generally is not the case, so the food ends up in waste treatment facilities and then in landfills, wasted. The cost of producing food in the first place is large – the growing, the transporting, the processing, the transporting some more, and all of the packaging. All of us in supposed ‘first-world’ countries should know that although we are in lands of plenty, or so it would seem, most of the wasted food and other materials comes from our countries. In the poorer countries where there isn’t the supply, the money, the infrastructure etc., very little is wasted. In fact, many people in poorer parts of the world are dying of starvation because they simply can’t get enough food. We have this ridiculous situation where the richest countries are throwing away foods and other materials, and the poorer nations in some way would like to have that problem. As a result however, they are not generating anywhere near as much waste.
There are some possible lights at the end of the tunnel. In my discussion with my son-in-law we talked about using waste as a possible fuel to power things that create things we need, such as electricity. I read something actually that said “Today, more than 900 thermal waste energy plants operate around the world that treat an estimated 200 million tons of waste with an output of approximately 130 trillion watts of electricity.” So there is a movement in the waste industry to handle the waste better. We also need to reduce the amount of waste we are creating as human beings, finding more efficient ways to handle that waste so that people have an idea of where it’s going. It is something that is open-ended, because if you’re rich you can buy and grow as much as you want – it doesn’t have to have any relativity to what you actually need. It’s very easy to create waste, particularly in first-world countries where people are more wealthy. It becomes much more of a malleable thing as well, because, taking a meal as an example, you cook a meal, and then there’s leftovers, and many people will throw those away – only a few will compost them. The point I’m trying to make with this is that there is the choice – people don’t have to compost or recycle if they choose not to.
If someone wanted to buy a fridge full of food and leave it, and then throw all of it, they could. There is no control on waste creation in the first place, and that is why even if one is not particularly wealthy by the standards of the particular community in the US or Britain or certain European countries and others as well, we are generally creating much more waste than we need, should or can be in order to create a liveable, let alone beautiful world for our descendents to live in.