As it is true that all of these items have an origin, so it is true that the components of the synthetic world have a destiny — a final resting place — for when we no longer require them. Their presence in our company is often fleeting. Once it has been decided that they are no longer wanted or needed, manufactured goods are returned to the earth, as waste.
While the lifespan of manmade goods is declining, it follows that the transition from raw materials to discarded waste is accelerating. Our growing addiction to consumption could ultimately be suicidal as many of the Earth’s resources are finite, and even those that we consider infinite — timber, for example — become finite when mismanaged.
Less than fifty years ago, the UK was self-sufficient — living within its environmental means. Today it is a net importer, using over three times its share of global resources. If everyone on the planet were to enjoy a similar lifestyle to the average UK citizen, three-and-a-third planet Earths would be required to sustain us all — and the UK is not the worst offender.
As parts of the developing world begin to accelerate their success in replicating western standards of living and consequentially, replicating western levels of consumption, the issue of declining natural resources and increased waste will become more pressing. Added to this is the continuing rise in world population, placing an ever higher demand on supplies.
In the UK, as with other densely populated countries, waste management is already a serious problem. As many current landfill sites reach capacity, how or where to dispose of our rubbish is becoming an ever more urgent issue. Exporting waste to the developing world is part of the current solution. Finding new landfill sites and building more incinerators at home are other options, as is the growing trend for recycling.
The mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ has gone some way in alerting and motivating the public about the issue of waste. In parts of Europe and North America in particular, steady progress is being made with regard to recycling, with many governments initiating schemes to curb the flow towards landfill sites. At present however, the gesture seems like it may be a case of too little by too few. The trend for developing nations as they become more affluent is an increase in waste as well as wealth. Forecasts are of a continued rise in the volume of worldwide waste.
Currently, consumption and waste are intrinsically linked — as the former rises so does the latter. Increased awareness of the Earth’s limits should be prompting us to live within its means rather than continuing along the road of increased disposability. The consequences of our accumulative actions will be a world exhausted of the raw materials that currently we take for granted. Peak oil production is already thought to be upon us, with many other less visible stocks also at the point of, or close to decline. The more we consume beyond sustainable limits the faster we deplete the world of the materials that support us. The current cycle of consumption and waste is not sustainable.
— Simon Carruthers