Linear Process in a Circular World

What would it happen if the droppings of your beloved pet took 100 to 400 years to biodegrade?

How would your yard look like? Man-made artificial droppings, like plastic bottles, may take up to 400 years to degrade. Can we afford it?

We live in a circular world. Spring comes after winter, then summer, then fall and then winter again. Living creatures follow also a cycle. We all are made of the very same stuff as the creatures that preceded us. The Earth itself is round, no beginning no end.
On the other hand, human activity is mostly linear. We extract, produce, sell, consume and dispose the waste. Most of our waste is not reintroduced into the system, at least not within a reasonable amount of time. Let’s take nuclear waste as an extreme example. It will take hundreds of thousands of years for highly radioactive waste to decay into harmless stuff. But we don’t need to go to such an extreme example; plywood may take 1 to 3 years to degrade, plastic bottles 100-400 years and a baby disposable diaper 50-100 years. (1)

Does this fit into our circular world? It doesn’t look quite like it.
Waste is part of life. We can’t avoid it. 60 billion plastic bottles are sold in the US alone each year. We think that most of them are recycled or dumped into a legal landfill. But let’s imagine that 1 out of 1,000, through littering or accident, are not disposed properly. That makes 60 million bottles per year resting unsolicited somewhere. And every year, a new pack of 60 million bottles will be added to the previous one, resting somewhere for decades.

Uncontrolled non-biodegradable waste is growing everywhere. Plastic items are becoming the standard of our landscapes. In some areas of the world waste is reaching alarming rates. Some of the stuff polluting distant riverbeds and coastlines is our very own trash that has been “exported” to the poor in order to keep our backyard clean. 40-50 years from now, without any doubt, our grandchildren will easily unearth plenty of non-biodegradable stuff. I am afraid they won’t be as excited as an archeologist finding a broken piece of pottery at an ancient Greek site.

We must reverse this immoral trend. I propose four possible courses of action:
1.  Annihilate half of the human population, especially Americans, Europeans and Japanese, the big consumers. This solution is ruled out since it is not politically correct.
2.  Enforce an overall consumption reduction. Ruled out as well due to the uncontrollable want of the vast majority of human kind for material goodies.
3.  Prohibit the production and consumption of non-biodegradable products altogether. Too utopian. Hard to imagine people’s agreement to relinquishing gas-powered vehicles and cell-phones and a return to oxcart and rolled papyrus technology.
4.  Force the existing linear product manufacturing and consumption processes into circular ones. In other words, make sure our man-made artificial droppings won’t take 400 years to disappear from the yard. How?
To be continued in another blog entry.

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