Who is on the plum tree?
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.
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.