How Much Waste Constitutes an Acceptable Level?


Waste is a natural part of life. Every living creature produces it. Unfortunately, we human beings are especially adept at creating excessive waste. Still, what is excessive? Can we really define what constitutes an acceptable level of waste?

Much of the debate over the waste that humans generate is framed by the landfill question. As the thinking goes, the U.S. is quickly running out of usable landfill space with no plan in place to deal with garbage once the space is gone. And yet there is no proof that we are anywhere close to running out of landfill space.

Still, even having ample landfill space doesn’t justify needlessly throwing things away. There is an ethical component here. The very definition of the word ‘waste’ implies something negative. It implies doing things in ways that are not as efficient as they could be.

Waste Will Always Exist

Defining what is an acceptable level of waste is not easy for the simple fact that waste will always exist. It is impossible to conduct life without it. When we cook, a certain amount of the ingredients goes to waste. When we make clothing, we produce waste material. The story is the same no matter what we do.

Even recycling produces waste. For example, Utah-based Pale Blue Earth is a strong proponent of battery recycling. They should be. Recycling batteries is a good idea from top to bottom. But even Pale Blue Earth batteries cannot be recycled 100%. Many of their materials can be recovered, but what cannot be is waste. Where does it go?

Batteries Are a Good Example

Batteries are actually a good product to discuss in terms of acceptable levels of waste. Here’s why: a rechargeable lithium-ion battery is generally good for 1000+ charge cycles. A disposable alkaline battery is used once and thrown away. Now, understand that Americans buy billions of batteries every year. The vast majority are disposable alkalines.

Is there a legitimate need to continue using disposable batteries? And if so, what is that need? On the other hand, choosing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries keeps billions of alkaline batteries out of landfills. That leaves a lot of space for other waste materials.

Just Because We Can

There are those experts who insist we are not running out of landfill space as fast as environmentalists claim. Let’s just assume they are correct. ‘Just because we can’ is not a good reason to continue recklessly throwing things away. After all, we can eat all the junk food we want to. That doesn’t make it good for our collective health.

There are plenty of things we already do because they are the right thing to do. We exercise and eat right because it’s the right thing to do for our bodies. We go to work and put in eight hours because it’s the right thing to do for our bank accounts. Likewise, we should be reducing waste because it’s the right thing to do for landfills.

Plenty of Other Benefits

Maybe the landfill argument isn’t enough to persuade you to reduce your own waste footprint. Perhaps an acceptable level of waste to you equates to whatever is most convenient. Well, there are other benefits to reducing waste. One of them is financial.

You can save money by eating food rather than throwing it away. You can save by dispensing with the paper plates and cups and washing your dishes instead. The list goes on and on. In the end, what constitutes an acceptable level of waste shouldn’t be determined by convenience. It should be determined by a willingness to do the right thing.

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