Pollution and Waste

Production and runaway consumption in the modern world proceed as if there is a vast, infinite “dumping ground” that waste and disposables will disappear into forever. In reality, there is no “away.”


The Challenge

The Earth is a “closed system” and all of the things that we see as “waste” must be processed somehow. There are limits to Earth’s capacity to re-cycle chemicals and materials of industrial activity. When we overwhelm the natural cycles it is inevitable that breakdowns will occur.

Revitalizing damaged environments, renewing destroyed communities and treating diseases caused by toxins all cost money. But these costs are not built into the prices of the products we buy. Economists use the term “externalities” to refer to these real, usually hidden costs.

Toxins build up at the high end of the food chain – which is where humans live and eat.



“When you say you’re going to throw something away,
where is ‘away’?”
—Julia Butterfly Hill


Did You Know..

Every day, the U.S. throws “away” 600 million plastic bottles. That’s 219 billion bottles thrown “away” in America each year.




New comprehensive measurements of progress have been developed are now being used by several governments and agencies. These indicators measure genuine progress because they account for the destruction and depletion of natural systems as a loss.

• Full life-cycle design, sometimes call “cradle to cradle” design, is a fast-growing practice of designing products and processes so that their environmental and social impacts are positive, rather than destructive. By preventing the depletion in the first place, designers are saving us all lots of money and energy.

• Clean energy and clean technology are the fastest growing sectors of the economy in many countries. Investment in these sectors is growing rapidly world-wide, and is even approaching the level that economists have estimated will be required to meet the challenges we face.

• Regulations prohibiting pollution have proven to be very effective over many decades. The cleanliness of rivers, lakes as well as local air quality has improved. Now this process of regulation is being expanded to include more pollutants and more territory.

• Personal practices of “Reduce, Re-Use, Re-cycle” are spreading rapidly, and local governments are putting in place support systems for these practices.




“The packaging for a microwavable “microwave” dinner is programmed
for a shelf life of maybe six months, a cook time of two minutes
and a landfill dead-time of centuries.”
—David Wann