Protecting the Planet
Turning the Petrochemical Tide
With the acknowledged existence of global warming, limited landfill space, dangers from incineration, ocean dumping and pollution from the manufacturing and disposal of petroleum-based products, many organizations, communities and consumers have increased interest in conducting activities that are environmentally and socially responsible. Many positive changes are happening in the marketplace today as corporations, communities and individuals are taking steps to protect their living spaces, their neighborhoods and the planet.
There is tremendous waste in our global cradle to grave, take-make-waste linear production system. Ninety-four percent of what we make is waste and only 6% is the actual product, of which 80% is disposed of within 6 months of its manufacture. On average most Americans produce over a ton of solid waste every year. We can only see one-seventh of all of this waste in the form of solid waste dumps and Superfund sites. That’s just the tip of the waste iceberg. What about the rest? It’s distributed as molecular junk in air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
There should be alarm bells and air raid sirens going off as a result of so much contamination and pollution. The trouble is that we don’t get feedback about the problem. Green architect and designer Bill McDonough has suggested that one way to get feedback would be for us to attach a pipe to the tailpipe of our car and put the other end into the passenger compartment. That would be real feedback. With such feedback we might consider whether we want to continue driving so much.
Where does all that Waste Go?
The truth is that the Earth is so large that we have naively believed that it has unlimited capacity to handle all of our waste. This waste goes into what we call the biosphere or life zone. The biosphere is very large, about five miles to the bottom of the oceans and about 5-10 miles into the atmosphere. But if the entire earth were just the size of a basketball that we could hold in our hands, do you know how thick the biosphere would be?
…The thickness of a sheet of paper. That’s where all of the waste goes and will stay for a million years. That’s the key…the stuff we throw out doesn’t go away but exists as a growing mass of pollutants in our air, water, soil and food. This can’t continue if we want a healthy present and a sustainable future for our children. We know this all too well, having witnessed the effects first hand through our work.