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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Andrew O'Hagan looks at the things we throw away in The London Review of Books:

Zero Waste may turn out to be one of the key concepts of the post-industrial era. It will change everything: it will change what you are doing now and will do in five minutes. Robin Murray of the London School of Economics has put the matter more purposefully than most. In Zero Waste, his 2002 report for Greenpeace, he peels our habits in relation to rubbish to the core. ‘Waste has been seen as the dark side,’ he writes,
as that against which we define the good. It has been the untouchable in the caste system of commodities. The idea that waste could be useful, that it should come in from the cold and take its place at the table of the living, is one that goes far beyond the technical question of what possible use could be made of this or that. It challenges the whole way we think of things and their uses, about how we define ourselves and our status through commodities, by what we cast out as much as by what we keep in.
If the notion of Zero Waste wasn’t so life-altering and revolutionary it would appear simply sensible. It relies on absolutely no discharge of toxic waste and no atmospheric damage, but it also means a new intolerance of material rubbish. From the Zero Waste point of view, a society in which a person drops a sandwich wrapper in the street would be as unthinkable as one where a person in the street pulled down their pants and shat. Everything would be understood to have an ongoing life. At its best, it amounts to a wholesale reconceptualising of our economic and moral worlds, bringing the idea of ‘away’ into the social sphere of ‘here’. Forgetting to do the right thing with an ice-lolly stick might come to be like forgetting not to kick a dog. (Street cleaners in this country presently clear away half a million tons of rubbish every year.) You would do it automatically because that is what you do, sensing, as a form of knowledge, as a categorical imperative as opposed to a species of choice, that nothing in the world is rubbish. Our focus, then, Murray argues, would be on the material life cycle, in which it should become natural for materials to live and transform and live again. ‘From cradle to cradle,’ he writes, ‘rather than from cradle to grave.’
Meanwhile, global warming is a myth.