Niamh Clune

Environment, poetry, comment, children's books,

If I Were A Butterfly: Why? Why? Why? The Butterfly Effect by Niamh Clune

Photo by Sarah Chisolm

Nineteenth-century industrial waste management systems and throw-away societies bequeath nothing to the future. Virgin resources flow one-way to destruction in landfills and incinerators. We rape the environment then waste valuable resources through inefficient production. Why?

In one year, each European produces 500 kg of household waste. This is the visible side of general consumption. The hidden side proves even more sinister. Try 3,500 kg of industrial waste and the use of 50,000 kg of natural resources to materialise that 500kg that we eventually bin. That 5-gram gold ring worn by you and me means the extraction and processing of about 3,000 kg of materials. Why?

Let’s consider this statistic another way: For every 1 rubbish bin of waste we put on the local curb for disposal, an equivalent of 71 bins of waste is created by mining, agriculture, logging and energy production (often amidst destruction to local communities). This is what it takes to convert virgin materials into finished products and packaging. About 94% of the materials extracted for use in manufacturing durable products become waste before the product is manufactured. 80% of what we make is thrown away within six months of production when the processes begin again. Why?

Does this make economic or environmental sense when Climate Change is no longer a threat but a reality?  The world cannot afford to continue making the same products over again; thereby, consuming the world’s natural resources and in the process, generating yet more harmful CO2’s through the burning of fossil fuels – another huge, hidden production cost.

Around the world, agricultural land is losing organic matter.  Soil is disappearing. 60 – 70% of all materials disposed of to landfill or incineration is organic. These millions of tons that go to landfill or incineration could be composted in anaerobic systems and resold for different uses to farmers or to the public or used to replenish soil where it has been lost.  A huge percentage of what we treat as rubbish could flow back through society and generate income.

Sustainable waste management is more than trucking operations. And it needs the involvement of all actors in the production and consumption chain: government, consumers, and producers must take responsibility.

 Waste is a design problem. It need not exist. It does not exist in nature.

If I were a butterfly, encouraging other butterflies, in other words, those of us capable of small actions that, when executed with vision and cohesion make a huge impact. This is how I would like to flutter about the environment…

I would fly to my local Resource Recovery Park. It is a place where waste is brought and made into new value-added products on the same site. Doesn’t that make sense to cut down on the cost of transportation and traffic volume?

The principle behind my Resource Recovery Park is to bring everything that can be recycled back into nature or back into the market-place to this one, alchemical site. In this place, materials are super-sorted. Super-sorting means materials retain their virgin value. They can then be made into new, value-added products, which are sold back to the public. A retail unit fulfilling this purpose is also located within the vicinity.   It’s a great place to flutter-by…lots of bargains, lots of creative things made with the waste uniquely produced by that particular community with design in mind to serve specific, local needs.

Small community industries also thrive in my flutter-by park. People’s garden waste is chipped or composted and sold back as mulch and compost.  The public witnesses waste going in and new products coming out. They become educated as to the value of the things they throw away. Rather than focussing on how we get rid of waste, we focus on diverting all reusable materials away from landfill or incineration. We shift collective opinion away from thinking of waste as rubbish to be buried or burned. Waste is a valuable resource that generates wealth and creates new, eco jobs.

My Resource Recovery Park is a twenty-first century solution to a nineteenth-century problem.

In my park, wealth-from-waste industries and small businesses co-locate. The co-location of such industries is important, as this generates the “Local Multiplier Effect,” such as in a “Mall” or waste exchange in which businesses of like-kind cluster together and provide a competitive, yet supportive environment. One business feeds another, so to speak, by matching wastes from one company to the resource needs of another. The park develops organically; it becomes an innovative, supportive, and fertile ground for new ideas on how to expand reuse, recycling and composting in an area.

This method of making new value-added products from waste on the same recycling site does not rely on high-tech methods designed to eliminate waste, as more often than not, these systems generate yet more waste (such as toxic ash produced by incinerators) and create further environmental problems.

The green industry, in particular recycling, represents the fourth largest economic power in the world, and it is the most rapidly growing. Resource recovery creates jobs.  In the U.S. reuse and recycling industries support more than 56,000 establishments, employ over 1.1 million people, and generate annual revenues of 236 billion dollars.  Sorting and processing recyclables sustains five to ten times more jobs than land-filling or incineration.

The price of recycled materials has tripled recently and continues to rise dramatically. This is a gold mine on our back doors, and we’ve ignored it. Waste is a new resource. We own it; we have bought it in the supermarket.  We can get the value of it only when we put it back into local communities rather than shipping it to far-flung destinations for reprocessing – generating yet more transport and environmental costs (all hidden and subsidised by governments).

Resource Recovery Parks place emphasis on a new, indigenous industry. We not only recover resources, we recover people.  This is the Butterfly Effect: Small actions locally that have an impact globally. Profits from waste generated by local, not-for-profit projects flow back into communities and, in turn, fund necessary local development programmes such as youth, elderly, and social inclusion.

It is now highly possible to divert 90% away from landfill or incineration. The last 10% is the most difficult. As a butterfly, I have done much research on the subject (Butterflies are good at this). My Resource Recovery park would; therefore, also house an MBT (Mechanical Biological Treatment Plant). In other words, at the end of the recycling, reuse, repair, and new manufacturing chain, anything that cannot be recycled back into nature or back into the market place is put through an MBT. This end-user facility is a low-tech operating system. It removes all putrescibles or organics, so that biological breakdown processes do not occur. The highly reactive substances are also removed so that the final residuals are rendered inert. These materials are then Clean-Filled or stored in sites where there are no green house gas emissions and no leaching of toxins into the ground.

We already have solutions. If we stop mining virgin materials, reusing those we already have and keep them flowing through society, a huge percentage of CO2 emissions would instantly be eradicated.

What remains obvious is that the Will of government is not focussed on making such strategies a reality. Governments are more concerned with their own existence; they fail us universally.

In a recent study conducted by leading scientists the world over, an attempt was made to estimate the work nature does for us in terms of how much it would cost if we had to pay her for pollination or pest control; if we had to pay trees for holding back thousands of tons of water and preventing floods; or pay trees for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The cost would be approximately 35 trillion dollars per year. That figure is twice the world’s annual generated wealth. The job that nature does for us proves inestimable. Once these eco-systems fail, we also fail.

Photo by Dany Fischer

The Age of Aquarius is the age of brotherhood.  It is the age of developing a right relationship with each other and with the environment and with all the species that are part of the eco-system. This is our spiritual challenge; it is intensely practical.

I might be a butterfly, but in my small way, I can effect change.

About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books.

13 comments on “If I Were A Butterfly: Why? Why? Why? The Butterfly Effect by Niamh Clune

  1. Uncle Tree
    June 16, 2012

    I second your notion, Niamh, with a hearty “Amen!”
    Exceedingly slow are we as a species, to realize
    how close we are, right now, today, to extinction.

    We no longer have 18 million years to do little else, but take,
    and return nothing of value to our oh-so fragile Mother Spaceship.

    It’s the Age of Doing a good that will last 10,000 years.
    Spread your wings and spread the wealth – the more the merrier!


    • ontheplumtree
      June 16, 2012

      Solutions are so simple, and often provided by nature herself. Unfortunately, corporate greed actively dissuades such simple innovation, ’cause there’s nothing in it for them. They have governments sewn up also. I know this from personal experience as a campaigner trying to effect positive change.


  2. mapelba
    June 16, 2012

    I’m often still amazed when I encounter people who insist the environment is fine the way it is and that we are doing no damage to it at all. But these tend to be people who don’t like the why question much.

    Well said, Niamh. You’re a brilliant butterfly.


    • ontheplumtree
      June 16, 2012

      Yes! There is nothing like denial, is there? Thank You for stopping by.


  3. Walking with Beverley
    June 16, 2012

    Great blog Niamh. Recycling is big here in Ontario, Canada but we do need to go the extra mile. I certainly agree that here in Ontario we are losing far too much farm land.


  4. Patricia Tilton
    June 17, 2012

    Very poweful and articulate article Niamh! Our environment should be at the top of the priority list. Right action is imperative to everything we do as we move into the 21rst Century. A lot is being done, but not in comparrison to the need. And, I can hardly tolerate the denial of so many people to the greenhouse effects on our planet — it is impossible to have a discussion because they eyes are closed tightly. We have to act from the heart center and think about our future as a human race and what we are bequeathing our children. I live in Ohio, and fracking of shale to obtain natural gas is suddenly big business — not to mention it was linked to over 100 earthquakes in NE Ohio last year — when Ohio rarely has an earthquake. They really don’t know if it’s safe the chemicals used. They dump the wastewater back into the ground, and that’s when the earthquakes occur. No one can say how it’s impacting the ground water. We are our own worst enemies. Right action is called for in just about every aspect of our lives, whether it be the environment, education, technology, feeding the world, healthcare and the financial community.


  5. We must always be vigilant…we seem to be able to solve so many other problems, so why not this one? We can’t wait for a profitable solution. The cost may be our very existence.


  6. Irene Gowins-Sowells
    June 19, 2012

    Amazing Niamh. Such a wonderful story, I’m one of those people that take the environment for granted, I truly love this. An eye opener!!!


  7. lorddavidprosser
    March 13, 2013

    We are wasteful. We the pampered educated Western World are the worst. We tell the rest of the world about the problems the planet has, then carry on making them worse..Fracking should be stopped until long enough has been spent on seeing what problems it may cause. We know some yet still carry on because greed blinds or the thought of cheap fuel. Well it won’t be cheap to the end user you can guarantee and nor to the planet.
    Niamh you have the right idea that goods should be recycled and a good desscription of how we could start.
    xx Hugs xx


    • ontheplumtree
      March 13, 2013

      Many thanks. Lord David. I campaigned for this for years…spoke in The Irish Parliament, lobbied councils…but now, I am spent, and it is up to another generation to take up the cause.


  8. Pingback: If I Were A Butterfly: Why? Why? Why? The Butterfly Effect by Niamh Clune | ldbush21

  9. Pingback: If I Were A Butterfly: Why? Why? Why? The Butterfly Effect by Niamh Clune | BUTTERFLIES OF TIME

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