I had the pleasure of recently giving a presentation on the history of the solid waste industry at the Orlando Permaculture meeting Tuesday night. It wasn’t easy following #GreenCelebrity Rob Greenfield’s presentation, in which he spoke about his current project of only eating food that he’s grown or foraged.
I started with some sobering statistics, like that the average American waste 4.5 lbs per day, or that although we only make up 5% of the world’s population, we use 30% of the earth’s resources. Next, it was essential to outline how we got ourselves in this mess. Before WWII, waste wasn’t even really significant to quantify. After the war, wealth and consumerism grew to never-seen-before levels. Consolidation of the waste industry quickly began taking ahold as solid waste began to overwhelm the infrastructure. Mergers and acquisitions are still prevalent today, as big waste companies vertically integrate.
Recycling came into play around 1970 when the EPA was formed. Curbside recycling has thus far been America’s most successful environmental program and diverts around 100 million tons of material annually. To Big Waste, recycling was a threat that ate into their market share and kept material out of their landfills. These same companies introduced single stream recycling, where people can put all their material into one bin, rather than a dual stream separation of fiber and containers. This has led to rampant contamination, and the eventual blockage from China who stopped accepting our post-consumer material after their labor markets tightened up.
All this can seem very depressing to some, but I outlined the things going on around the country that are insulating us from dependence on Big Waste, and making us more resilient to Climate Change. This includes everything from dumpster diving to Japanese-style minimalism led by Marie Kondo. By reducing your waste generation, you are taking back your freedom from fueling the Big Waste Industry.