Friday, 12 October 2007

Waste not want not

Nowadays I’m getting the strangest thoughts in the strangest places, like scrambled messages from a timeless radio transmitter. The other day the thought came to me that waste is an indicator of the level of dysfunction of a community or household. Packaged goods have usually been transported long distances, usually because of (too) cheap labour. They’re usually not fresh, or healthy, nor do they really support the local economy, whether it’s ours or a some distant worker’s. The waste becomes a pollutant and starts to accumulate at toxic levels in our, or other people’s habitat. The packaged goods may be cheaper, but at a cost.

Commentators like Monbiot write that we in the West have lengthened our supply chains so much that we can no longer trace our waste. Just as carbon dioxide emissions, and methane farts and burps emitted by cows are invisible, so are the ramifications of our actions, thus preventing us from having to feel any guilt. Perhaps it’s ever been thus.

A year on from our family’s zero-waste week, we had a dustbin review. It’s now almost entirely populated by plastic wrapping. Shops are quite cheerfully taking back our excessive packaging. We’re still plagued by those darn yoghurt pots and biscuit wrappers; maybe we’ll find an alternative. For now, plastics and fossil fuels cannot be disposed of without polluting. I look forward to a more enlightened time when we’ve learned to close the cycle, create a cyclical economy, get off oil etc and use all waste as a clean and healthy resource.

1 comment:

James said...

Plastics can be 'disposed' by reuse. The rest of Europe operates reusable plastic bottles, mostly rugged polycarbonates. Plastic recycling is not bad either, since 100% of source-separated material can be remanufactured just by melting it. It takes much less energy to melt plastic than glass or metal. Besides pvc, plastic is only polluting when burnt.

Even in a circular economy fossil fuels won't be disposable. They're made of carbon that was carefully put underground by evolution in order to make the surface clean enough for life. If we bring them up that's reverse evolution and the above-ground concentrations of carbon and other pollutants unavoidably increases. If knowing that we bring them up anyway then the worst thing to do is to burn them. Save them for uses that are hard to replace with materials from nature. Perhaps endlessly reusable and recyclable drinks bottles?