The term “throwaway society” was coined to describe a pattern of production and consumption that encouraged discarding resources rather than reusing them. For example, many restaurants have abandoned washable cloth towels and replaced them with paper napkins. On a consumer level, parents encourage their children to throw away their lunch bags rather than bring them home to use another day. Everything in our society has become disposable. As you can imagine, our “throwaway” tendencies have exacted an enormous cost upon the natural ecology. A casual look at our burgeoning landfills tell the tale.
For years, there has been increasing concern about the dwindling capacity of our nation’s landfills. That concern has now spread to other countries that are struggling under the weight of their own growing consumerism. Garbage threatens to overflow.
We’ll take a closer look at this issue below. We’ll explain why the current model of a throwaway society cannot last, even as a growing number of countries attempt to adopt it. We’ll also describe the secondary effects of an escalating garbage problem upon the environment. Lastly, we’ll discuss the rise of China in a world of unsustainable natural resources.
Pushing Against The Limits
Geological data has painted a sobering picture of our environmental predicament. Headlines have been dominated with our oil usage over the last several years. And to be sure, our dependency on inexpensive oil as worldwide reserves dwindle is problematic. But, it is only the beginning of our ecological dilemma. Other natural resources upon which we depend are diminishing. Data released by the U.S. Geological Survey team exposes our vulnerabilities.
Within twenty years, it is likely that we will exhaust our reserves of recoverable lead and tin. Five years beyond that, we will probably exhaust our copper reserves. By 2065, the world’s supply of recoverable iron ore will likely be exhausted. These resources are used in the production of many disposable items. To suggest the model is ecologically unsustainable is to understate the matter.
Aside from the rapid depletion of recoverable natural resources, there are growing secondary effects. The garbage problems faced by New York City can be used as an example of what the world will face during the coming decades. Each person produces nearly 1,600 pounds of trash every day. Most of it is sent to landfills.
It is estimated that several hundred trash collection vehicles are used each day in New York to pick up and deliver this garbage to landfills. This delivery process results in increased levels of oil consumption, emissions, pollution, and traffic. The garbage itself has filled New York’s landfills to capacity. To cope with this problem, the city has begun delivering their trash to nearby states, creating another wave of ancillary effects.
As noted, the problem is not isolated to New York. Nor is it isolated to the U.S. It is beginning to plague countries across the globe.
China Takes Center Stage
Into this framework steps China – and to a lesser extent, India. China’s population is vast and is beginning to enjoy the benefits of consumerism. Predictably, the country is already struggling under a growing garbage crisis as they increasingly adopt a throwaway societal model. Meanwhile, their consumption of natural resources has begun to eclipse our own. Given that worldwide recoverable reserves of these resources are limited, the model is not sustainable – for the U.S., China, India, or any other country.
Economists and statisticians have suggested that China’s current rate of consumption is unsustainable. Whether oil, paper, grain, or steel, realistic production levels and resource reserves cannot support it.
Our throwaway society cannot last. We must create and embark upon a new model – a sustainable model. The question is, can we do so before an ecological disaster rears its head?