Environment for Beginners
Environment for Beginners

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"Trying to save ecosystems has more to do with changing egosystems." - Don Rittner
 

Garbage, Recycling and Waste Management; Understanding the Lifetime of Material

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In the 18th century, the famous French scientist Lavoisier stipulates that “rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme”, which can be translated by “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything transforms”. The core of the sentence means that no element is created out of nothing and none of it disappears. Natural elements on this planet are 100% used and reused.

Already then, some people understood the concept of recycling and knew there was no such thing as waste. Although, modern civilization has another understanding of elements as we consider things to be waste after a certain time; we isolate elements from their normal cycle and tag them a life time.

Commercial material comes from an assemblage of natural and artificial elements that we transform throughout a business process. During its time of use, the material keeps the same natural and artificial substance such as plastic, paper, metal, glass, etc., but it shows better value at birth. When it loses his appealing or effectiveness, it loses his value; we then pill these objects together and consequently create waste.

Waste is also created in the assembly line when using bi-product in order to get to the final product. Some unsuccessful products don’t even get to the mass and are put to waste before being market (such as marketing mistake like the blue container tomato soup). We toss solid element in the garbage and then we transport it in a dump. That way, garbage is put out of sight of the population.

In our minds, when it goes in the garbage, the object disappears from our everyday life, which makes us believe that it is magically disappearing and our urban environment stays clean. However, accumulating waste with abusive consumption and production make us face two major problems with garbage: quantity and toxicity.

The quantity of garbage constantly increases as production and consumption rises along economic and population growth. As for example, Americans create daily more then twice their weight in waste, which make space in landfills rarer to find. On the 20,000 landfills in the United States, 15,000 (75%) reached their full capacity, and the unpopular aspect of having a land fill close to residences makes it harder to build.

General toxicity is the other problem related to garbage. On the case of incineration, it produces mercury emission in the air, the most dangerous greenhouse gas, and other toxic fumes. After the process, burned material transforms to a new solid waste and is more toxic then it was before incineration.

If we decide to simply accumulate garbage on one site, it produces methane and increases the risk of fire. For example, a lake caught on fire in Russia after throwing a cigarette butch in it. Other disposal such as nuclear waste is still hard to manage. Nuclear waste is considered as the most dangerous one and the technology to get rid of it cannot absorb to total amount created.

The brightest way to deal with quantity and toxicity is to hold back as much as possible what we consider waste material before it goes into the garbage process. We don’t have the technology to manage all the different type of waste toxicity, but we can considerably lower quantity by recycling.

Small amount of what we throw away is really garbage. In fact, 85% of garbage is recyclable. Since quantity often leads to toxicity, we double our effort in problems that we can easily deal upstream instead of downstream. It is smarter to put all the effort on managing serious garbage like nuclear waste instead of dealing with consequences of quantity.

Material is subtracted from the Earth and loses its value to our eyes too fast and too easily. All material contains natural elements that we can use as other part somewhere else. Paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle; nevertheless, it constitutes half of the garbage. Moreover, recycling makes us more responsible about the resource we are extracting from the planet and lower our ecological footprint. After all, noting on Earth lives independently from nature, and cities are not excluded.

 
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