The Relationship Between Economics and Waste

The Relationship Between Economics and Waste

Waste is a fact of life. Every living creature creates it. But in nature, waste is organically returned to the life cycle. That is not the case for human waste. The waste we generate goes mainly to landfills and incineration plants. We do not recycle or reuse nearly enough.

Dozens of studies have examined why humans produce so much waste. Though observations vary from one study to the next, they all have one common factor: economics. Simply put, there is a direct correlation between a society’s economic status and the amount of waste it produces.

The link between economics and waste involves two factors. The first relates to economics encouraging greater waste production. The second explains how economics inhibit recycling, leading to a greater waste stream within a given society.

Economics Encourage Waste

Have your grandparents ever told stories about growing up during the Great Depression? If so, you have probably heard how families avoided waste at all costs. They stretched their resources as far they would go, and then some. Why? Because they barely had enough money to get by.

Recycling, repurposing, and reusing was a necessity back then. People could not afford to buy new clothes, so they repaired what they had. There wasn’t always a lot of food in the house, so throwing away leftovers was a no-no. Everything was eaten.

Today, we throw away tons of food annually. We replace our wardrobes just because we want a new look. We can afford to do such things because our economics are so strong.

Economics Discourage Recycling

When it comes to dealing with waste, economics play a significant role. Virtually everything human beings produce can be recycled, reused, or repurposed. There are not a whole lot of exceptions. Unfortunately, most of our waste stays waste because it is cheaper to discard and replace.

For example, did you know that nearly every form of plastic can be recycled? Still, more than 90% of the plastic we produce gets buried in the ground. Why? Because it costs too much to recycle it. Manufacturers can buy virgin plastic for a lot less.

Modern society has become so adept at mass production that we can produce nearly everything we need fairly cheaply. Every dollar goes further, making it too easy to throw things away. Instead of repairing, we replace. Instead of recycling, we make new. It is all quite bizarre.

The Math Doesn’t Always Add up

The most maddening thing in all this is that we often continue to throw away and replace even when the math doesn’t add up. Take batteries, for example. People keep buying disposable alkaline batteries because they cost less at the cash register. They incorrectly assume they are spending less by avoiding rechargeable batteries.

Pale Blue Earth, a company that sells USB rechargeable batteries, says that many people would be surprised if they just did the math. Bear in mind that a single lithium-ion battery can be recharged 1000+ times. Even at nearly $30 for a 4-pack of AA lithium-ion batteries, you’re still spending less than you would on alkaline batteries offering identical output.

In simple terms, you have to buy 1,000 alkaline batteries for every single lithium-ion battery. So you are still spending a lot more in the long run when you go alkaline. But for some reason, people don’t do that math. They keep buying single-use batteries, using them up, and throwing them in the trash – by the millions.

The data doesn’t lie. There is a direct relationship between economics and waste. The better a society’s economic position, the more it wastes. Incidentally, it doesn’t have to be that way.