Waste does not exists until we create it

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Waste does not exists until we create it. Only when we throw out – I refuse to say “throw away” as there is no “away” as far as waste is concerned – something irrevocably into the trash to be dumped in a hole in the ground or to be burned in supposed waste to energy plants is waste created; not before.

Every piece of “discard” must be considered a potential raw material for something else and must be prevented from becoming waste.

While during the time of our grandparents and their parents there was also stuff that eventually got thrown out – such as broken china, broken glass and such like – onto waste dumps much was recovered via the “rag and bone man” and by reuse, especially among the poorer classes. Very little, unless really broken and unusable, was wasted and that included packaging such as glass jars, tin cans and boxes, cigar boxes, show boxes, etc.

We must come to see so-called waste not as waste but as raw materials, as secondary raw materials, if you will, as they were called in the German democratic Republic, the country often referred to as Communist East Germany.

sekundaerrohstoffeWhile the German Democratic Republic was certainly, in general practice, no model in environmental protection and sustainability recovery of resources from waste was exemplary and that already in the 1970s and before. Such recovered materials were referred to as secondary raw materials (Sekundärrohstoffe) and the country's industry depended on them.

Every item that we throw out into the trash is a resource lost, raw material gone, though, maybe not virgin but nevertheless and once it is in the landfill or, worse still, the incinerator, it is lost for ever, to the economy and to us.

It has been said that our landfills are going to be the mines of tomorrow and that may well be true considering the valuable materials and such that are being dumped in them day in day out. Therefore none of that should be dumped but everything should be reclaimed and recovered as raw materials. It can be done but all too often the political will is lacking.

If it is the case – which I believe it to be – that today's landfills, today's rubbish dumps, are the mines of the future then that, definitely, should be a warning signal to us that we are doing something seriously wrong with out so-called “waste management”.

© 2014