10 Chapters
Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 3 Our Primary Global Solution to Waste: Bury It

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 3

© Kaband/Shutterstock.com

© Vladimir Jotov/Shutterstock.com

When I was a child, I had a pet rabbit that lived in a large cage on our apartment balcony. Every day I would feed her the vegetable peelings from our kitchen; she would happily eat them, later pooping out whatever her body didn’t use as spherical, pearl-like droppings in one corner of her cage. She would spend the rest of her time hanging out, dreaming perhaps about nice boy rabbits, in another corner of the cage. I never once saw her venture near the “poop corner” unless she had some specific business to do. Come to think of it, if I were that rabbit, I probably wouldn’t either.

The desire to be as far away from one’s own waste as possible seems to be hardwired in us. Landfills constantly face NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) challenges when getting zoned, and property values are lower near sewage treatment facilities, landfills, and composting sites. People simply don’t like hanging out near waste. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we invented the toilet. If you deconstruct what a toilet is, beyond being a nice ceramic seat, it’s a device whose purpose is to move our waste far away from us as fast as mechanically possible.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 2 The Role of the Individual Purchase

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 2

© Nat Ulrich/Shutterstock.com

© Bakalusha/Shutterstock.com

When looking at the root cause of garbage, we as consumers bear a large part of the responsibility. Garbage is predicated on our individual consumption. If we don’t buy something, it can never become garbage.

The manufacturers that make our products are here to serve the desires of consumers (you and me). Sure, by marketing to our desires they may influence what we want—or even introduce things we never knew we wanted—but in the end we are the individuals who pull the trigger and trade our money for those goods. No one is forcing us to buy anything. By contrast we voluntarily, and in fact willingly, buy things on a daily basis. We even gain pleasure in the act of buying. Consider the recent emergence of “retail therapy,” a pop-culture concept promoting the act of shopping as a way to beat depression.

Consumerism, in a way, is something of an addiction. We almost need to consume; we are constantly chasing after the next new thing (or high, for the sake of this metaphor), and our appetite to consume is never satisfied. One key difference between global consumerism and individual addiction is that this destructive habit doesn’t just harm our individual bodies; it affects our planet in a real way.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 7 The Science of Recycling

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 7

© TerraCycle

© TerraCycle

Because the waste problem represents more than 11 billion tons per year on a global basis,1 the fundamental solution to all that waste needs to be on an industrial scale. On such a monumental scale, it is hard to leverage the intention and the form of an object. Reuse and recycling would really have their work cut out for them, and it is much easier to focus just on composition. That is where recycling comes in.

Recycling has been in full force since the dawn of the Bronze Age (3300 BCE). Metals have always been difficult commodities to come by, and there is evidence of bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for perpetual reuse.2 This behavior was tied entirely to the economics of waste. It was very expensive to harvest new bronze from rock and significantly easier to just melt down a broken bronze object and make something new.

During the Industrial Revolution, the need for metals was enormous, and metal recycling was in full force. Just imagine how much metal it took to build the railroads that crisscross Europe and North America. During World War II, the US government urged citizens to conserve as much as they could in terms of energy, food, materials, and other essentials. Citizens were encouraged to donate metals to the war effort—helping forge everything from bullets to tanks. The culture of recycling, unlike conservation, stayed in effect after the war.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 8 The Critical Element of Separation

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 8

© Kasia Bialasiewicz/Shutterstock.com

© Kongsky/Shutterstock.com

In nature the waste of organisms is typically spread out in small quantities over a wide area. Unlike humans, animals in nature don’t head to the same spot every time they have to poop. They don’t preserve their dead, place them in caskets, and later bury them in designated areas. And they certainly don’t have any garbage, let alone put it all into a big pile.

When outputs are mixed together as they are in a landfill, it is harder for them to become useful inputs. Putting even useful outputs into the garbage will render them useless outputs. While this is partly because they will not naturally decompose in a landfill, it is also because it is very hard to recycle a soda bottle (#1 plastic) when it is squashed together with a banana, a yogurt cup (#5 plastic), and a used rag.

Any one of these outputs could be recycled or composted individually. A soda bottle could be melted down into plastic, as could a yogurt cup. A banana could be composted, and a rag could be shredded and made into paper or new fabric.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781626560246

Contents

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

See All Chapters