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.....the more wealth, the more waste?

It is still true that large scale industrial production has a negative environmental impact; the amount of energy it consumes, the kind of material it uses, the nature of the chemicals it employs, the type of airborne emissions it produces, the solid and liquid waste it generates - together cause severe ecological damage. The environmental cost of many current economic practices still unsustainable and are at the very base of our ever-growing ecological crisis. Emissions, from energy sources and production processes contribute to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and inflict damage to the ozone layer. Resistant chemicals carried into the environment in the form of waste not only produce initial ecological damage but remain active for a very long time.

Upon mobilization such toxic substances (heavy metals such as chrome, lead, mercury, etc.), migrate for example into waterways that are fished. Ultimately, such substances find their way into the food chain. Other forms of non-biodegradable waste, even when not toxic, still pose a major problem as these are stored on landfills. Landfills are filled up with such substances. Such waste takes up space - land that can otherwise be used more efficiently, but instead becomes infertile. Furthermore, landfills are not an eternal entity, they require maintenance and ultimately will have to be substituted or even relocated due aging. In any case, a landfill is a burden left to fix for the next generation.

Annual amount of waste produced in
the provinces of ex-W-Germany

Since hiding waste underground relocates troubles into the future, burning waste distributes (dilutes) toxins into the air, and are eventually washed out into the water soil, while aggravating greenhouse gas emissions even further. Thus, the best "clean and green" practices regard prevention of waste and the use of renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, photovoltaic and solar power plants, renewable raw materials such as plantation timber, and recycled materials in general (plastic, metal, glass, etc.). Although these practices generate likewise harmful emissions and waste, the extent of damage is significantly lower than entirely relying on fossil fuel and on the unearthing of unprocessed ore. The impact upon ecosystems, the environment in general, and in the end on us is much more limited.
Today's industrial output is of course directly linked to the amount of market demand for its products. One of the simplest ways to reduce the environmental impact of industry is to reduce the volume it produces. This cuts the energetic and material demands that both producers and consumers utilize as well as the waste both produce. Contrary to "capital logic" this does not imply a headlong rush into inevitable lower living standards - on the contrary it could man a high-quality product that has a much longer lifespan than the low-quantity products flooding the global markets. In that aspects the following observations should help to tackle the current production-waste mismanagement:

  • Firstly, consumption is a problem. A great deal of what we call consume does not in fact become consumed. A refrigerator for example, is bought, gets used, wears out and gets disposed of. At the start of its life the device functions, at the end of its life it does not. Being made up of a mixture of metals, plastics, rubber, insulation materials, chemicals and gases none of which have been consumed. Because of a broken part, and the unwillingness to fix it, the entire device is put out of service, assigning the other components, which are still in working condition, a potential environmental hazard. In fact, ecosystems depend on consumption (modification of nutrients involved in the conversion of energy) to maintain food chains and return nutrients to the earth; a concept hardly realized in our modern industrialized society.
  • Secondly, that which is called consumption cannot be separated from the issue of population. If people of one nation are "consuming" 20 to 30 times more than people of another (contrast between rich and poor nations - e.g. an average Indian as a measure versus an Austrian), the 8 million industrialized fellows "consume" the equivalent amount of roughly "215 million Indians! It follows that global over-consumption and over-population equally threaten ecological well-being.
  • Thirdly, we must confront the question of what can industry and us (as its consumers), do in the face of these problems. Fortunately, we all can do a great deal. As indicated, we can change the nature of our economy - we can shift back from a quantity to a quality powered economy in which economic growth is still possible but without the environmental costs of current forms of economic conduct. More specifically, we can shift away from the use of non-renewable energy (especially fossil fuels), conserve material (especially ones that cannot be replaced), clean up production practices, and make products that not only look good, but work well and do little environmental damage. Equally, we can make products that are easy to recycle at a low energy cost.

Based on these principles, we are better able to reduce or even eliminate that which we do not need while maintaining existing living standards. The concept of reusing materials that still have "life" in it, and recycling brings us closer to the concepts evident in real ecosystems.
We further should conceive manufactured objects as entities of stored energy or energy "on loan" for the particular product function. In this way we would see a product as destined for further applications or as material that will either biodegrade (harmlessly, as in case of compostable material, and as such really integrate into an ecosystem) or be safely combusted to release potential energy in the form of heat or electricity.
Of course, such a reorientation of our way of conceiving the world requires personal will and dedication (its always easier to change someone else than one's own ideas). In addition it needs to be connected with the design of our sophisticated infrastructure by implementing collection station once a product has reached the end of their useful lifespan; i.e. sorting, in order to recycle and reuse certain components - both for the packaging and the item itself.
Of course, the following few pages do not display a complete selection of how certain items can be processed, used, and disposed off. Instead, these should be rather viewed at as an initial step to get something done in our both protective and competitive economy and in a globalized world community.

As ideal as this approach may sound, the recycling industry does generate extra pollution during collection, transport, and processing. Keeping in mind that these extra trucks and train-loads would otherwise convey their load directly to the incinerator or onto the landfills, it is probably of a lesser extent than relying exclusively on prime material for most industrial processes. And as a positive side-effect, the recycling industry is generating a vast range of extra jobs in the logistic and high tech sector as well as in the manual labour segment.
Recycling is thus a "mental process" that is not only restricted to the development of a product, but likewise involve consumers. In the end the responsible consumers have the power to influence the popularity of a product range by simply taking the ecological aspect into consideration. This involves attentive reflection in the choice of the product, its usefulness, the content or ingredients, and of course the excess and often unnecessary wrapping that comes along with it. Usually the wrapping is the first part (with the shortest lifetime) of a product spitted onto the market that and ends up as garbage. Unfortunately, due to the complexity and the diversity of many wrapping materials, thoughtful disposal and knowledge about its nature is required to feed it back into the recycling loop - definitely an aspect the industry has seriously to work on.
Although we are far away from an ideal concept of recycling, council's around the world came up with a novel solution that makes it more attractive. It involves the weakest section of the recycling chain - the consumers. Thus, the concepts and ideas of recycling require active participation by the public in that they are strongly requested to differentiate their garbage into unusable rubbish and recyclables. It is the concept of the split-truck garbage collection (see below), which should give the public the motivation to do so. Besides fewer pickups by these trucks, they also generate less noise and pollution. The split trucks have two separate compartments: one for general waste and one for recyclable materials. These compartments ensure your carefully sorted recyclable materials are not contaminated with general waste. All recyclable materials collected will continue to be processed for re-use. The sketch below shows how the split trucks work:

The following pages (listed in the menu bar on the left hand side), should provide the extra information required in order to improve the recycling capabilities of consumers. It is the aim of these pages to show the reader the importance of the waste management crises that we face and that RECYCLING does make a difference.


Further reading:

Thomè-Kozmiensky K. 1995; Verfahren & Stoffkreislaufwirtschaft, Enzyklopädie; EFVerlag für Energie und Umwelttechnik, Berlin - FRG

Thomè-Kozmiensky K. 1995; Biologische Abfallbehandlung, Enzyklopädie; EFVerlag für Energie und Umwelttechnik, Berlin - FRG

Hansen J.A. 1996; Management of Urban Biodegradable Wastes; James & James Science Publishers Ltd; London - UK

Tiltman, Strnad 1996; Recycling und Abfallbehandlung; Dworak - Weka, Vienna - AT

For additional information visit the following web-sites:

Intro / Paper / Glass / Plastic / Metal / Compost / Toxic / Residual / Sewage / Landfill