I am also concerned about the energy side of this story, since 35 to 45% of the U.S. energy budget goes to the production of disposable items. Fossil fuels play a role in the lifecycle of many of these products, as feedstock for the creation of plastic used in products and packaging; in the transportation of goods; and in the collection, transport and processing of waste. Our love affair with disposability helps drive an ever increasing demand for fossil fuels obtained through environmentally devastating “unconventional” processes, as well as the production of non-biodegradable materials that are overwhelming our conventional landfills. No one wants to live next to a landfill, and so we end up spending more fossil fuel to transport our garbage to someone else’s back yard, out of sight and out of mind.
We need a new paradigm, driven by consumer demand and corporate pragmatism. As citizens, we can demand policies that require corporate responsibility for the full lifecycle of their products, and investment in high-tech processes that refine waste to generate energy and to recover valuable minerals, metals and plastics to be recycled into new products.
As consumers, we can recognize the value of the materials and energy embodied in what we think of as “garbage,” and confront the hidden costs of our wasteful ways. Disposability is just too expensive.