The United Nations Environment Programme defines waste thus
“‘Wastes are substances or objects, which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law”
Wasteand wastes are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or it is worthless, defective and of no use.
Neither spells out that these materials substance or objects are primarily man made. This perhaps is assumed in these definitions. Because the idea of ‘natural waste’ did not occur to Nature herself.
Waste is primarily a human construct. In Nature, where materials are all deeply interconnected and capable of reintegration into Nature, the idea of something being ‘of no use’ just doesn’t exist. Humans beings as all other living species are made of the same five elements and in a way that quickly degrades and gets reabsorbed into the natural systems.
In the ultimate analysis, even the distinction between natural and man made may be questioned because finally everything comes from Nature and returns to Nature. There is nowhere else it can go.
However man made substances are faulty to the extent that while they are made using the same five elements that all natural substances are made of, the way in which they are put together or chemically composed make it very difficult for them to break down into their original elements and return to where they came from.
Similarly the ‘worthlessness’ of a substance or object that might qualify it as being waste, is simply the inability of humans to see the worth in it! Assigning value to things only by their usefulness is a human trait – it does not recognize the inherent value of the substance if it cannot immediately define its use in human terms.
Considering these aspects how would one more specifically define waste?
Waste is man made material that may have served its original purpose, and for which an immediate reuse value cannot be easily defined. Materials which have a longer lifespan, are the major bulk of what constitutes waste and for which markets cannot find a value in the present. Waste is man made material that does not get reabsorbed into Nature within human time spans and can create potential danger to life.
The impact of waste on life is ultimately that which alerts us to how potentially hazardous its toxic impacts can be.
Nature herself deals with potent toxic chemicals and uses them to her advantage in various life species. Venomous serums, poisonous saps and fatal stings are seen all through the gamut of life on Earth. However the toxins created by man made substances are harmful to a large range of life species and threaten human life itself.
Species lower on the food chain are now finding ways to absorb some of these waste materials and still survive. Plants grow in spite of pesticides, fish absorbs plastic and cows artificial hormones. But when these come to our dinner plates, they result in cancers and many other fatal disturbances to the human system. It is only now, as we see the results of the toxins we have released into Nature bouncing back to our own lives, that we are sitting up to pay attention.
How do we break out of this wasteful cycle?
It will require a paradigm shift in our understanding and a complete reframing of our understanding of our place on this planet. It will require small steps such as reducing the use of plastic to a much larger willingness to step out of the current systems of resource use. It will come when the connection to Nature becomes absolutely the most important thing in our lives.
One place to start is to observe the rules of Nature and try to revive respect for them in our own lives. As we start reconnecting with the rhythms of Nature, slowly bit by bit, we can find the links to the larger chain that will help us realign ourselves.
Here are some thoughts on lifestyle choices that will ultimately reduce the waste we generate in our own lives. We may not see immediately the connection between making such shifts and reducing waste, but the results will come as a butterfly effect. These choices help shift consciousness and then solutions arrive intuitively.
1. Sleep in tune with Nature, sleep soon after darkness arrives and wake up early to welcome the Sun.
2. Cook and eat fresh food, try to avoid processed and packaged foods.
3. Choose natural materials that feel good on your skin and allow it to breathe.
4. Adopt a pet – living and loving animals brings a consciousness to how waste impacts them and an automatic desire to reduce it.
5. Spend time in silence. Even a few minutes in a day start making you comfortable in your own skin. The joy that comes from buying and using objects gets slowly replaced by a contentment and peace with fewer possessions.
The only way to start making a shift is to start it within oneself. As we change, our choices change and our environment changes. The incredible creative abilities of humanity will one day create worlds that are based primarily on respect for Nature. It is only a matter of time before this happens.
Let us not waste this time.
These articles form a series in the Green Idea campaign called The Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. They aim to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling. To read more visit www.beautyofrecycling.in