December 6, 2013

Wealth Means Waste

Municipal solid waste (MSW) production, kg per person per day, World Bank 2012.

Wealth is synonymous with waste. If you want to know how much waste a country produces, all you really need to know is how wealthy it is. In an emerging global phenomena, increasing wealth means increasing consumption and increasing waste production.

The affluent produce a lot of effluent. They produce a lot of solid waste, too.

Solid Waste Wisdom
  • Developed countries produce more waste per capita because they have higher levels of consumption. 
  • These countries consume more than 60% of the world industrial raw materials, but only comprise 22% of the world's population. 
  • Per capita waste generation in developed countries increased by 14% since 1990, and 35% since 1980.
  • USA, the wealthiest nation, unsurprisingly tops the list for the production of rubbish, with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of MSW per person per day, fifty five percent of which is contributed as residential garbage. 
  • Urban residents produce twice as much waste as their rural counterparts.

"Income level and urbanization are highly correlated and as disposable incomes and living standards increase, consumption of goods and services correspondingly increases, as does the amount of waste generated."

Our flagrant waste goes against the basic laws of ecology. It is no surprise that humans are the only species on earth that produce toxic waste products that can not be used.

Basic Laws of Ecology
  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. Nothing comes from nothing.
  4. Nature knows best (therefore mimic nature)
Barry Commoner, who wrote the four laws of ecology, warned that any major human-induced change in a natural system would likely be detrimental to that system, and ultimately to humans. He thought that following nature would lead us in the right direction.

In nature there is no final waste - the waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another.  Any "waste" product from one thing is rebranded as a "resource" when it is used by something else.

To mimic nature we have to "close the loop" and develop cyclical manufacturing processes. This involves the redesign of resource life cycles so that 100% of materials in products can be recovered and reused. The process adopted is one similar to the way that waste products (resources) are reused in nature.

Another obvious and important way to approach zero waste is to reduce consumption. It does not matter how much money we have in the bank - we still can not afford to consume and waste like we have been.

"Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless." 
- Thomas A. Edison

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