JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
I wonder if we can speak of units of measurement for the stuff that we throw out in terms of some amount of industrial production of a country for a given period of time? Like, do we here in the U.S. throw away enough stuff in one day/week/month to equal the total yearly production of some/all (?) manufactured goods produced in fill-in-the-blank-country in 1850? A figure such as this probably does not add to our understanding of, well, anything at all--but maybe the discussion of what that number might be could be interesting. Or perhaps the very notion of even entertaining that such an equality is possible is enough for that unit of measurement to have done its job without even being established by simply bringing up the subject of vast waste.
Our vast waste is vast.
There are estimates that the average person (excluding businesses and corporations and such, strive as they may for personhood) in the U.S. throws away between 4 to 7 pounds of garbage a day. (This according to Edward Humes in his new book, Garbarology--the author believes that the lower estimate by the EPA of about 4 pounds/daily is too low, and prefers the numbers of BioCycle magazine and Columbia University's Earth Engineering Center, which give us the 7 pound figure.) Given, say, 300 million people in the U.S. that makes for about 7.6 trillion pounds a year, or about 2.1 billion pounds per day.
7.6 trillion pounds of garbage is more than double the world production of steel in 2011.(Source.)
This is also more than ten times the amount of all food produced in the U.S. per year. (Source.)
But getting back to the historical aspect of the original question, in 1913 the total amount of pig iron produced by the chugging mills of the United States and Great Britain was about 84 billion pounds. That's 40 days of garbage today.
So, I'm not sure how many decades we need to go to get close to the Tonnage of All Manufactured Good in One Year = The Amount Americans Throw Out Each Day. My off-the-shelf approximation gets us close to the first industrial revolution period, which probably makes sense, but is difficult to imagine.
It would be better for everyone involved if garbage was treated more as an energy source than it is, rather than shipping off huge tonnage of scrap iron and waste paper in enormous cargo ships to China, or burying it.
It seems incredible that in our enormous consumption of stuff that in the end the most popular thing to do with the shells of our wants is to make mountains of waste with it.