Of all the myriad headlines now dominating the news, the global waste crisis is undoubtedly the least ‘sexiest.’ As compared to war, for example, garbage lacks the tantalizing clash of personalities; it has no military strategy to unravel, and no massive amounts of ‘war booty’ for the military industrial complex to haul home.
When speaking about the earth’s massive waste problem it’s essentially a matter of scale, numbers and drab statistics. In other words, about as eventful as watching paint dry. Yet the problem is every bit as deadly as that of military confrontation, and possibly even greater. We ignore it at our own peril.
Today, the evidence of mankind’s waste problem is not just limited to landfills and garbage dumps, which thus far remain ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Traces of chemicals from plastic production as well as pesticides, for example, are being detected in drinking water and the breast milk of mothers. Meanwhile, one of the most productive contributors to the global economy, the pollinating honey bee, is being wiped out in startling numbers across a wide swath of the planet, threatening entire segments of farming. Industrial-scale pesticide usage is largely to blame.
Out to sea, meanwhile, bobbles on a watery pedestal the greatest tribute to humanity’s insane obsession with materialism and consumerism known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an island of trash in the Pacific Ocean that’s said to be about three times the size of France.
It is estimated that some 8 million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year – eight of the rivers where the majority of the trash enters the waters are located in Asia. Yet that shouldn’t give any Westerner much comfort since not only do we share a tiny planet, together with the oceans, our corporations rely on Asia for much of its production base. If we, dedicated consumers of the corporate cornucopia, continue to pollute the waterways at the current rate, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
So widespread is the crisis that ‘microplastics,’ the end result of plastic after it has been broken down into tiny particles, has even been discovered in the Arctic air and water.
On land, the problem is far more difficult to ignore. If current trends of corporate-generated waste disposal continues – and there is every reason to believe it will indeed worsen considering the every-growing rate of human population and consumption – there will be some 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste contaminating landfills and the natural environment by 2050. And when it is considered that man inhabits a relatively small and finite place called Earth, the question as to where all of that rubbish will eventually go (not in my backyard!) will become the paramount issue of the very near future.
In an effort to wrap our brains around those numbers, the world produces enough municipal waste to fill over 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools every year. And perhaps it will come as no surprise that the country with the most garbage output is the United States, where Americans throw away three times the global average of waste, including plastic and food.
Yet when it comes to recycling, America again shows poorly, only re-using 35 percent of solid waste. Germany is the most efficient country, recycling 68 percent of its disposables.
What is particularly frustrating about the waste problem is that not only is it a problem that everyone – regardless of political ideology – can agree exists, but it should be easily manageable.
Instead of allowing the world to be held hostage by child activists, like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage environmentalist who is dividing the planet over her climate change hysteria, the world could come together and really clean up its act first. That would be a critical step towards making capitalism a more sustainable venture. Presently that is very far from the case. After all, few people can deny – as many do when it comes to the climate change argument – that there is a serious waste problem. It is something we see every day accumulating in our own homes.
Corporations, driven by little else than the bottom line, must start playing a role in controlling the garbage output. Yet presently they are only aggravating the problem with non-stop production, while letting local mafias squabble over the refuse. In fact, corporations are actually being paid to pollute as much as possible since energy companies receive massive subsidies for fossil fuel. According to the IMF, companies are granted $14 billion dollars a day in subsidies (yes, you read that right, a day). Instead of being paid to contaminate our waters, these companies should pay for their plastic waste to be recycled. Currently that astronomical cost is picked up by the overstretched taxpayer.
There is an expression that the best way for the average person to affect change in the world is to ‘act local.’ For corporations, however, the world’s most dominate ‘person,’ these behemoth organizations must start acting – by legislation if necessary – as responsible players in the international economy. After all, we are all perched on the branch that we are sawing away at on a daily basis. It’s either we start working to make capitalism a sustainable project, or we all collapse – together.
Author: Robert Bridge.
Originally published in Strategic Culture online journal – https://www.strategic-culture.org. The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.