Caught in the Treadmill of Wasting

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” -Jung.

Even at the end of the day, if the waste management system works seamlessly, efficiently, it is still destroying and wasting resources at a faster and faster rate – the problem doesn’t just go away with efficient collection and transportation. That we have a material that we consider ‘waste’ is the issue. Before all materials had value and material was either ‘matter out of place’ or was biodegradable or if broken, fixable. But at some point in our human evolution we thought we’d flirt with being unnatural. We added things that we didn’t have a role for. Modernity became an obsession with the shiny and new, with novelty. Not with developing internally, but endlessly turning out new products, and things/objects became equated with progress. Plastic became ubiquitous because it could continually be designed as novelty, new things that you can use, new things to seemingly make life convenient. And this distraction was so alluring. But yet, this is an abusive relationship that comes at a cost. Everything we destroy has a price tag and we’re borderline destroying human society/consciousness with our current norms of materials use. What has become ‘normal’ – existing at the cost of the environment – is in effect very un-human. We are losing the connection with ourselves, each other, nature, when we get caught up in these processes.

Waste is the heartbeat of the multi-headed dragon of our modern social crisis. The faster we destroy things, the stronger the mechanism/dragon becomes. We’re taught to assuage fears and anxiety through consumption, but really this is a perpetual motion machine. More products are cheaply made and/or have planned obsolescence, more resources are needed – this is what drives our economy, what is driving climate change, inequality, resource scarcity, wars, and the like.

Consume, waste, consume, waste, this is the ongoing continuum. And managers think they are brilliant with schemes of ‘awaying’ and ‘displacing’ the waste. ‘We’ll just move it!’ we can pile it up, burn it, bury it, ship it away. The clever magicians are the ones who make it all disappear – fool you into not asking questions. Its magic! We made waste energy! There’s a ski slope on top! Not to worry, we even import waste! We’re so industrious, we heat our homes with waste – we’ll even heat the homes of the climate refugees! Oblivious to how it’s all come full circle, where ultimately people seek refuge from the conditions that were created by the countries they are fleeing to.

Western consumption norms have spread now to the entire globe – all nations are aspiring consumers; culture and connection has been swapped for economic growth. Even waste in global south countries has some level of the mentality of ‘displacement’– sent to marginalized communities within the country or to other global south countries – a hop-scotch of environmental justice and human rights issues. No one is taking responsibility and everyone is to blame. What will it take to lift the veil on the system that is dysfunctional? What will it take for people to be able to confidently hop off this treadmill?

*Tsunami of waste. Photo taken in Colombo, but it could be anywhere…