Can Anything Be Done About Wastefulness?
HOW would you react to a person who after spending much time and money obtaining food at a grocery store promptly went to the garbage can and threw a portion of the food away? Shocked as you might be, that is essentially what happens in many U.S. households today. Is that also the case in your home?
Consider these points: In Tucson, Arizona, a city of approximately 350,000, an anthropology professor of the local university conducted a group study to determine what the residents had discarded in their garbage. It was discovered that about 9,500 tons of edible food were thrown away each year—enough to feed 4,000 families annually! Another survey indicated that the residents of one state annually discarded 300 million dollars’ worth of reusable metal, glass and paper, most of which is never recycled.
The United States, although a primary offender, is not the only country with this problem. Other developed nations are wasteful too. The Federal Republic of Germany and Britain discard each over 160 million tons of waste every year. And although some of Britain’s industrial wastes are reused, almost none of the available household wastes are recycled. A Japanese newspaper stated that Japan’s households dispose of 38,000 tons of garbage daily. Such figures reflect the current wasteful attitude on the part of society. One New York City resident summed it up this way. “We’re a throwaway society—we’re taught to throw everything away.”
What a departure this is from the attitude of many of the pioneers who opened up such countries as the United States! For them the order of the day was “Waste not, want not.” And it is probable that this conservative attitude helped to put many people of the United States on the pathway to relative material abundance. So why should there be such a different attitude today? And can we, individually, do anything about wastefulness?
On the Wings of Abundance
It is interesting to consider how the very abundance brought about by those frugal pioneers has spawned a society of wasters. As the United States began to grow, and people discovered the abundant wealth of the land, they developed industries to produce the necessary things of life. Gradually, however, people’s basic necessities were supplied, and manufacturers shifted to producing luxury items.
Manufacturers also realized that if they made their products as strong and durable as technology would allow, these items would eventually saturate the market, and customers would not buy so often. So some tried making inferior products, but the poor quality became obvious and these companies lost customers. What would industries do now to ensure growth?
The answer was built-in obsolescence and high-pressure advertising. Advertising agencies helped many companies realize that, rather than actually making an inferior product, they could simply continue to change the product, even if only cosmetically. Consumers could then be convinced that their old products no longer were useful or desirable.
They were now obsolescent, outdated, old-fashioned! Advertising agencies thus began to entice the general public, assuring them that whatever they presently owned could be replaced by something much better. People were told that they would benefit materially, be respected and admired, and have a superior life-style by throwing away the old and buying the new. Soon the masses became believers, and though the growth of industry was ensured, the present wasteful attitude became prevalent. Additionally, other serious problems came into view that affect the quality of life for all of us.
Pollution, Depletion and Friction
1. The first problem was tremendous pollution. All the discarded items had to go somewhere, and soon man was inundated with mountains of trash.
Some thought that the solution was to bury all the trash and soon it would break down into its natural elements. But manufacturers developed more and more indestructible materials, such as plastics and high-grade metal alloys that do not break down as easily as did some of the older materials. Again man was faced with the challenge of what to do with all the trash.
Some countries are trying to recycle these waste materials. This has met with limited success, however, basically because it is less expensive and less trouble for most manufacturers to use virgin materials. Recent advances have been made in using some of the waste for fuel, but there are problems here also.
For one thing, only a percentage of waste can be used for fuel; so the waste has to be processed first. Although the technology exists for burning wastes efficiently, many companies find that they do not have the capital to lay out for the necessary equipment. So despite man’s efforts in this regard, we still have a growing problem of pollution.
2. Another worrisome aspect of wastefulness is the depletion of the earth’s resources. Obviously, increased recycling of the dwindling material resources could help. But in addition to the problems mentioned earlier, there is that of depleted energy resources to sustain the manufacturing processes.
The resources that are now of the greatest concern are oil and natural gas, the primary fuels of the developed nations. Most of the alternatives—such as solar and nuclear energy—are either too expensive to consider or not yet practical. Temporary measures are being employed in the hope of new discoveries, but unless people’s attitude toward wastefulness changes, trouble is inevitable.
3. A third and perhaps less evident problem that has come from the wasteful attitude of people is the straining of relations between the materially more prosperous countries and their developing neighbors. More and more, the developing countries cry out that they are given little help in caring for their needy populations.
Meanwhile, the more prosperous nations allow cattle to be slaughtered, crops to be destroyed and foodstuffs to sit and spoil in order to keep prices stable. Developing countries have banded together to represent what many call the Third World. And in some instances these countries feel the need to play one major power against another in order to get the things they want. This leads to friction.
What Can You Do?
Certain people foresaw many of the problems we now face and pushed hard to inform others of what the future would hold. Partially because of these efforts, there now are laws to reduce pollution and waste in many places, and there is a growing concern for the preservation of earth’s resources. Still, the driving force behind wastefulness today is the desire of individuals to have the latest and the best regardless of the consequences for people in other countries or future generations. Therefore, each of us should try to combat the wasteful tendencies that have pervaded modern society.
For example, in the more affluent countries, edible food wastage can be as much as 15 percent, representing an annual loss of millions of dollars even in a medium-sized city (300,000-400,000 inhabitants). Can you avoid food wastage in your home? Maybe reducing servings and avoiding unpopular foods could help. Recycling leftovers from one meal to another is also a useful tip. At the University of Southern California “one fraternity member was able to modify house eating behavior to permit savings up to $1,000 a year.”
Merely being conscious of the need to conserve helps a great deal. But we will also accomplish much if we simply recognize that everything we have is not useless just because something new has come along. A number of magazines and books now published can help people to learn how to repair automobiles, houses, furniture and appliances. Such repairs often return much higher values for the investment than would the purchase of new items.
Of course, we must realize that in some instances the cost of repairing an item is much greater than that of replacing it; and things do wear out. When that happens, replacement usually is more reasonable. Occasionally, too, certain substantial improvements are made in new models to increase efficiency. But in many cases making use of items we already have, rather than trying to keep up with the latest, will result in a simpler and less frustrating way of life. More importantly, if each one of us takes wastefulness seriously, the problems we have considered will be reduced.
The Best Solution
No doubt many do not care about changing their habit of wastefulness. They may argue that the very economy of certain nations depends on the wastefulness of people. It is true that the current political and commercial setup could not tolerate a major change. But are not the future health and happiness of mankind more important than the perpetuation of a system that promotes greed and waste? Surely! Therefore, let us briefly consider the alternative—rulership by God!
In order to appreciate the wisdom of this, we need only to examine earth’s natural cycles. First, consider the water cycle. Water falls to the earth and is put to use by man in a number of ways. It is not then wasted but is purified by streams and by evaporation to begin the cycle again.
There is also the food chain. The elements that plants and animals consume are continually returned to the earth to provide for future generations.
Then, too, God has made very efficient use of the energy the earth receives from the sun. Its radiation not only keeps the earth comfortable for man but is used by plant life in producing wood and fossil fuels for man’s later use. Only the earth’s Creator and Designer can maintain a condition that provides so well for humankind.
God has in fact promised that he will soon “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) By eliminating those who stubbornly maintain a wasteful attitude, and by educating those who accept his rule, he will establish a clean society free of pollution and waste. That society will exist under his Kingdom rule.—Matthew 6:9, 10; Daniel 2:44.
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Disposing of mountains of trash presents a growing problem