Modern Day Waste: Solutions for Recycling, Repurposing, and Profiting
I’m Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory.
Let’s talk about recycling. The idea is certainly not new, in that for millennia humans have maintained and re-used tools and resources as part of an essential economy based on what is available, what is the need, and what is the best way to meet that need without waste. The behavior was reality; there was no choice. But as we multiplied and responded with innovation and technology, we discovered that we could make more than ever before, into goods and necessary services; we could build and earn our way beyond scarcity to a new standard of making, consuming, and living that today is both system and expectation of surplus, even excess.
Waste and its management are the new challenges of this day. How do we dispose of toxic tailings and spoils, plastic containers and packaging, discarded automobiles, old refrigerators, outmoded televisions, superseded computers, or out-of-fashion smart phones? Where does it all go? Into dumps where we attempt to cover and contain its seepage and deterioration; into the groundwater and watershed and ocean where it does invisible damage to the land and sea and all that lives in it or depends upon it.
Take that to scale and your have poisoned aquifers with water unfit to drink, lakes and streams hostile to native species, an ocean surface pocked with vast clusters of floating debris, and a water column corrupted solution of poisons we cannot see, taste, or feel until we can through algal blooms, dead fish, and sick people.
We recycle what, and how much of this waste? We collect aluminum cans, some glass, paper, and cardboard and a small percentage of the plastic discard, and turn them into similar products for similar uses. We feel good about this. Not everyone does it.
We also have some bright new ideas. For example, we recycle discarded ocean plastic into clothing and soap bottles and surfaces for parking lots; we recycle fishnet and line into carpet tiles, skateboards, and doormats; but when you really consider what percentage of everything we produce and then recycle to be produced again, it must add up to a pittance.
How do we turn bad trash into good cash?
Here are some thoughts:
First, what if we refrain from creating the trash, at all by conserving or using less of the things that enable its making? Use less plastic by not using plastic bags, rejecting plastic packaging, substituting re-useable containers, glass not Tupperware, for just one example. These small individual protests, and many more such similar actions, are easily done now by any of us and our families at home.
Second, what if we recycle more, by insisting that all plastics be recycled, that all engine oil and fast food frying fat be recycled, that all manufactured items be made of recyclable products or, if not, carry a penalty deposit for the true cost of their safe disposal? What if we held corporations responsible for their industrial waste, enforced, not diluted or contradicted regulations justified by the right of the public to be protected from such pre-meditated impacts on human health? Some of these have been tried and successful, until they are subverted by the narrowest interest that asserts mean shareholder return over basic human rights. These, too, are achievable through political will.
Finally, what if we built a new economy on a recycling ethic, a price or tax structure built on the inherent value of re-use, the concept that an item is more valuable if it can be used longer or it can be re-used for a process and production that exploits and affirms its economic basis again and again in a cycle of maximum utility and return? What if it costs more, not less, to purchase a non-recyclable item built from a waste-based process? This would not be a new principle on Earth; it too is achievable as the revival of a principled behavior that attacks waste at its irresponsible, anti-social core.
Without substantive recycling, in these ways or others, we perpetuate waste. Waste is excess. Excess is pollution. Pollution dirties our air, corrupts our land, fouls our water, poisons our ocean, and diminishes our future.
We will discuss these issues, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.
THE EARTH OPTIMISM SERIES IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE WORLD OCEAN OBSERVATORY IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION’S OCEAN PORTAL, TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE GLOBAL EARTH OPTIMISM SUMMIT DURING EARTH DAY WEEKEND, APRIL 21ST THROUGH 23RD, 2017. SHARE YOUR IDEAS AT EARTH OPTIMISM DOT SI DOT EDU.
Waste and the management of it are new challenges in recent decades. How do we dispose of toxic waste, plastic packaging, electronics, and other discards of modern society? Where does it all go? In this episode of World Ocean Radio, host Peter Neill talks about current efforts to recycle and re-purpose trash in efforts to slow the contribution to the waste stream, and he suggests some new ideas for turning waste into profit.
About World Ocean Radio
Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory and host of World Ocean Radio, provides coverage of a broad spectrum of ocean issues from science and education to advocacy and exemplary projects. World Ocean Radio, a project of the World Ocean Observatory, is a weekly series of five-minute audio essays available for syndicated use at no cost by college and community radio stations worldwide. A selection of episodes is now available in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swahili, and Mandarin, enabling us to reach 75% of the world's population. For more information, visit WorldOceanObservatory.org/world-ocean-radio-global.
No Trash Project
About the Earth Optimism Summit
April 21 - 23, 2017
The Earth Optimism Summit, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute’s Ocean Portal, will be an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, practitioners, pioneering scientists and researchers, major civic and industry participants, national and international media, and philanthropists who make up the conservation-minded citizens of our world. They will convene to discuss and share solutions – what are the best minds, boldest experiments, and most innovative community practices telling us about how to preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources, and address climate change?
The Earth Optimism Series is brought to you by the World Ocean Observatory in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Portal, to raise awareness of the Earth Optimism Summit during Earth Day weekend, April 21-23, 2017 in Washington, D.C. and around the world. Share your ideas at earthoptimism.si.edu.
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