Rubbish! The collective output of human existence, we throw it away without a care in the world; into a bin, down a chute or simply leave it outside. Yet we rarely contemplate where it goes after it leaves our hands.
For its consequences stretch far beyond our own borders and threaten the global commons.
Rubbish has come to be the nauseating side effect of rapid human expansion, but is not just a bi-product of regional urbanisation in specific cities, its also come to be a global one. As the world’s population continues to exponentially grow, questions loom over reaching environmentally sound solutions to problems such as; how nations will account for waste management, if and how emerging economic nations’ will be given leeway for long term industrial expansion and consequentially an increased waste output? Or is it ethically sound for the global north to ship their refuse to the global south hence merely transplant an issue from one area to another?
The correlation is two part; population growth/density and the purchasing power of that population are key contributing factors to an increased waste output, the key will be in stemming the impact which waste has over the long term. The issue is two pronged again; as sustainable avenues to reprocess our refuse exist, such as recycling initiatives, in countries such as Germany and Denmark, yet these will have to grow tenfold on both local and international levels if UN population estimates are to be believed. For by 2050 the global population will be nearing 9 billion (as opposed to the 6.5 billion of today), to counter such overpopulation, family planing and education should be the number one priority to maintain stable population growth in developing regions.
Economics vs The Environment
This almost 50% percent increase of individuals all seeking a way of life, will be defining; as the vast majority of them will be in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/South-East Asia, more specifically areas under-development, this increase in population equals not just an increase in waste output but also on the demand of resources. On a food and agricultural level, such basic infrastructural needs will need have to be catered for alongside the dilemma of waste, a balance which will be key for long term sustainability.
What we have to see is an increased collective responsibility and understanding in the ways we go about handling our waste and how we consume in our daily lives; this also means not shipping our waste half way across the globe for someone else to handle, but to instigate grassroots initiatives in spreading knowledge when it comes recycling, food patterns and lifestyle choices all in the spirt of waste minimisation. Internationally; corporations would have to rethink the goods and services they provide in extrapolating their business models to minimise their waste footprint, situations where economics and the environment will clash!
The environmental impact of waste is ever visible, the natural world becomes all the more burdened as we top off our landfills or simply dump straight into the oceans, factors which correlate with disease and pollution for humans, animals and flora alike. The focus has to be on renewable energy and recycling initiatives to create a status quo alongside more stringent international lawmaking when it comes to waste management, logistics and recycling. Alongside individual nations pushing to reduce their own carbon footprints in conjunction with treaties already in place such as the Kyoto Protocol and COP15.
The human impact of waste is most acutely seen in third world nations, where rapid urbanisation coupled with explosive population growth and a low GDP/c has lead to overpopulation with side-effects such as; urban decay through decentralisation with the growth of slums, open landfill sites, scavenging and disease, all benefactors of one thing, waste.
Waste management is a collective responsibility, one which no single nation can shy away from, it affects all of us and will ultimately require the balancing of consumerism and conservation, both which are vital to the international system, yet their cooperation is key!
There is no easy path to so called “sustainability;” yet waste and it’s management rests on not only on the shoulders of the international community, but also as a collective responsibility in not just safekeeping our own well-being but in realising the continued long term existence of Planet Earth.