It is time to toss out the throwaway economy and -society

We have all turned into a total throwaway society and it is getting worse...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

From garbage crises in Greece and China to worldwide shortages of grain, meat and oil, our current consumption patterns are on a collision course with the Earth’s geological limits.

plastic water bottle thrown away

Producing products that were meant to be discarded after one use was once seen as a way to sustain economic growth. This can no longer be so...

The stresses in our early 21st-century civilization take many forms – social, economic, environmental and political. One distinctly unhealthy and visible illustration of all four is the swelling flow of garbage associated with a throwaway economy.

I see the result of our throwaway economy and -society at an almost daily basis in what people dump around the municipal parks and open spaces in this area.

Litter bins are being misused as trash cans for people's rubbish but the amazing thing is what they do throw out and judging by that I think I would have a fit if I would be able to see what comes in at the municipal refuse stations.

Throwaway products were first conceived following World War II as a convenience and as a way of creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be.

What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus, we have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable paper towels for hand towels, disposable table napkins for cloth ones, and throwaway beverage containers for refillable ones. Even the shopping bags we use to carry home throwaway products have become part of the garbage flow.

The throwaway economy is on a collision course with our Planet's geological limits.

Aside from running out of landfills near cities, and elsewhere, for some are now put elsewhere, the world is also fast running out of the cheap oil that is used to manufacture and transport throwaway products. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is not enough readily accessible lead, tin, copper, iron ore or bauxite to sustain the throwaway economy beyond another generation or two, if that.

The cost of hauling garbage from cities is rising as nearby landfills fill up and the price of oil climbs. One of the first major cities to exhaust its locally available landfills was New York. When the Fresh Kills landfill, the local destination for New York’s garbage, was permanently closed in March 2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to landfill sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Virginia – with some of the sites being 300 miles away.

Given the 12,000 tons of garbage produced each day in New York and assuming a load of 20 tons of garbage for each of the tractor-trailers used for the long-distance hauling, some 600 rigs are needed to move garbage from New York City daily. These tractor-trailers form a convoy nearly 9 miles long – impeding traffic, polluting the air, and raising carbon emissions.

Garbage problems are not limited to New York City alone. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, closed its last remaining landfill on at the end of 2002, and since then ships all its 750-thousand-ton-per-year garbage to Wayne County, Michigan.

Similar problems can be found in Europe, as well as elsewhere in the world, as landfill sites run out of capacity and incineration is being resisted.

The truth is that while recycling goes that far not everything, especially those throwaway products, can be recycled and therefore, aside from needing to consider “waste to heat and energy” plants we need too get away from this throwaway attitude and get back to real products that last and that can be repaired. Period!

© 2011