All the resources we waste basically consist of two kinds: materials and talents. The waste of time essentially means we are doing something we should not do, which means either wasting materials or talents, or both.
Have we thought about how much we have been wasting all these years? In what ways do we waste our resources? What kind of benefits can be realized if we waste less? Let me focus on the waste of materials in this essay.
We tend to think that an object is useless after serving out its purpose, or because of its appearance or odor. This wrong concept has given rise to a waste culture that is counter to natural law. In nature, everything serves a vital purpose, which is recycling. It is a natural process by which the earth regenerates and replenishes its resources. Natural recycling happens readily to all organic materials.
If you look around, all organic materials such as fresh food, dead plants, dead bodies, and even animal excrements are subject to decay, some faster than others. The ubiquitous bacteria are the facilitators of decay although we usually associate them with disease. Their function is to break down the materials into their original basic components that can be used again by nature to make other things. In general, all the decayed organic materials will end up fertilizing the soil or enriching the ocean in the great natural process of recycling.
In nature, whatever is created is never wasted or lost. The earth is a tightly closed spaceship. It receives light and heat from the sun, which are also reflected back to space. Nothing else escapes due to the force of gravity. If nature does not waste, why should humans? Are humans above nature or part of it?
In the pre-industrial age characterized by muscle power and subsistence living on the farm, people wasted little because there were few artificial products to consume. In growing crops, farmers learned to fertilize the soil with compose and excrements. The culture of recycling was deeply ingrained in ancient civilizations that respected nature and its powers.
The industrial age has greatly transformed the world during the last 300 years. All kinds of machines and products have been invented. Although machines power the industrial society, they are monsters because they produce huge quantities of inorganic products and materials that are difficult to recycle. Furthermore, machines require fossil fuels to run and emit greenhouse and toxic gases. A major consequence of the industrial age is the tremendous quantities of inorganic wastes created by both humans and their machines. These wastes can be roughly divided into three categories: discarded used products, unwanted by-products, and gaseous emissions.
The amounts of discarded used products in the world can easily pile up into mountains. Among them, the organic products will decay readily and will be recycled by nature. The problem lies with the inorganic products because they don’t decay easily. For instance, plastic materials take thousands of years to go through natural decay and recycling, if at all. In an effort to ignore them, we bury our discarded products in garbage dumps, regardless of the long-term consequences. Now that dumpsites seem to be running out, our own wastes are threatening to bury us if no permanent solution is found.
The by-products of our industrial age are created during the manufacturing process. Some are used by other industries. The rest are unwanted or even toxic. The dumping of unwanted or toxic by-products from the manufacturing process is the most common source of environmental pollution. These are the wastes we incur even before the finished products come out of the production line.
To run the machines, fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) are used which are limited and non-renewable. Despite providing power, the machines generate huge amounts of unwanted by-products in the form of gaseous emissions. For convenience, we let the atmosphere be the dumping ground for those gases. Besides the toxic gases that damage health, the non-toxic carbon dioxide turns out to be the biggest problem. It causes global warming by insulating the planet against heat loss. A slowly warming earth brings about climate change. This is hard to visualize except for more extreme weather conditions, failed crop production, and rising sea level down the road. When these disasters strike, no country or individual will be immune.
All the inorganic wastes created by the industrial age have accumulated to near critical levels over the last 300 years. Their huge quantities have already disrupted the natural recycling process, and are now threatening to overwhelm its mechanism. The earth may suffer an environmental breakdown before a permanent solution is found to limit inorganic wastes. Therefore, starting from today, the following actions should be adopted to re-invigorate the culture of recycle and conservation:
1. Consume less and recycle more.
2. Develop an efficient industry to break down and recycle inorganic wastes.
3. Use more recycled inorganic materials in production and consumption.
4. Substitute fossil fuels with renewable energy.
5. Replace the gasoline engine with electric motor using renewable energy.
As you can see, conservation and recycling are the keys to solving the problems of inorganic and toxic wastes, while nature readily takes care of organic wastes. Besides conserving natural resources, recycling expands the global economy to include new industries hitherto unknown or ignored. It is a fundamental operating principle for growing the economy in the 21st century.