I just finished reading the new Jeffery Deaver novel, 007 Carte Blanche, a James Bond continuation of the Ian Fleming series. Sort of dumb, I think, not up to Deaver’s usual standard. But his attention to detail is impeccable as always. In this one, much is made of waste management in a world that sorely needs to pay attention to waste management. One of the bad guys, who owns countless waste disposal sites in the world, is telling Bond about the problem: “There are four ways to rid ourselves of discard. Dump it somewhere out of the way—in tips or landfill now mostly but the ocean’s still popular. Did you know that the Pacific has four times as much plastic in it as zooplankton? The biggest rubbish tip in the world is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, circulating between Japan and North America. It’s at least twice the size of Texas and could be as big as the entire United States. Nobody actually knows. But one thing is certain: It’s getting bigger.
“The second way is to burn discard, which is very expensive and can produce dangerous ash. Third, you can recycle it . . . Finally, there’s minimizing, which means making sure that fewer disposable materials are created and sold. . . . It’s the packaging that causes most of the volume. Discard was easily handled until we shifted to a consumer manufacturing society and started to mass-produce goods. How to get the products into the hands of the people? Encase it in polystyrene foam, put that in a cardboard box and then, for God’s sake, put that in a plastic carrier bag to take home with you. Ah, and if it’s a present, let’s wrap it up in colored paper and ribbon? Christmas is an absolute hurricane of discard.”
He goes on to say, “E-waste accounts for more than ten percent of the deadly substances on earth. Heavy metals, lithium from batteries. Take computers and mobiles. They have a life expectancy of two or three years at most, so people just throw them out. . . . But pound for pound computers and phones are the most deadly waste on earth. In China, they just bury or burn them. They’re killing their population by doing that.”
Scary, isn’t it? Most of us do the recycling bit, which makes us feel a little better about ourselves, but that doesn’t even begin to solve the problem. Six billion of us now on earth with that number climbing alarmingly every day, most of that six billion buying more and more plastic and cans and bottles and computers and mobile phone devices and then throwing them away, mountains of refuse growing and growing in our landfills and rivers and lakes and oceans. Where will it end? I guess it will end when there’s nowhere we can live that isn’t contaminated with toxic waste, and then we’ll all die. Now that’s a depressing thought.