America throws US$ 11.4 billion in the trash annually

The United States throws $11.4 billion in the trash, every year, and this is no joke

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Can We Really Afford to Do That? The truth is that we can't!

A recent report by As You Sow, a non-profit focusing on promoting "environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies", shows that Americans are throwing cash in the trash, almost literally. At least 11.4 billion dollars in recyclables – steel, plastics, glass, paper, etc – are not recycled and thus wasted. The report argues for "extended producer responsibility" (EPR), which would shift the responsibility for post-consumer waste from taxpayers and municipal governments to the companies that produce the packaging, creating incentives for producers to reduce the amount of packaging they create, increasing packaging recycling rates, providing revenue to improve recycling systems, and reducing carbon and energy use.

We have met the enemy, and he is waste... and no one could that better, I think

It does sound very good when put like that, though let's not kid ourselves: Companies make stuff, but we buy it, and the cost of this system would move from "taxpayers" to "consumers", so it would still be the same people bearing it. The good news would be that the incentives would be much better for effective recycling programs and reductions in packaging.

Still, a lot of money could be saved and less environmental damage would be done. This is even more true now that billions of people around the world are getting out of abject poverty and starting to use more of everything (materials & energy). That's a very good thing from a humanitarian point of view, but this change must be done in a way that protects the ecosystems which support all life on Earth.

While this report only looked at the U.S., the situation, no doubt, is much the same, to the same or lesser extent, all around the world, with some places doing better and some places doing worse. But this is an opportunity: While a lot of money can be saved now by stopping this waste of useful materials, it should pay even more as time goes on. It is likely that we are in the early stages of a commodities trend that will only lead to higher prices over the next decades as large parts of Asia, South-America and Africa develop economically quickly and supply of many commodities will have trouble keeping up, in good part because commodity prices were pretty low during the 1980s and 1990s and very little investment was made in exploration.

So to come back to recycling, these higher prices should provide one more incentive for not throwing out perfectly good steel or paper to the landfill. Cutting this waste doesn't just make environmental sense, it also makes economic sense if only we can properly align incentives for optimal recycling.

On the other hand this report has only looked at the waste of possible recyclables. It has not even considered the waste of food from farm to market and then in the home, and the waste of other items that would not have to be tossed but could be reused.

Most people, when it comes to food, do not understand the “use by” and “best before” labels and toss out anything that has reached it's “best before” date even though most food would still be good to eat and would cause no harm.

When it comes to everything else the great majority no longer understand reuse, if many of the generation of the 1970+ ever did. The cannot distinguish between recycle and reuse and that is also due to the brainwash the recycle lobby. Reuse has become the stepchild of waste management but that is where, after reduce, that is to say reduction of packaging and first and foremost consumption, it should begin. Rather than even tossing things into the recycling bin we should see as to repairing something or having it repaired, if it is a product, or reuse items considered waste into something that we need and want.

If we really want to do something as to “saving the Planet” then we must consider the reuse possibilities of each and every thing that we handle and we must also rethink our needs and wants and reduce our consumption.

Cutting consumption, insisting on repairability and reusing as much as possible make not only environmental sense but it also makes tremendous sense on a financial level and if we would just put our thinking cap on every time every one of us could save a lot of money over a year by doing it.

Do yourself and the Planet a favor... rethink what you do...

© 2012