One of the biggest environmental threats facing human society falls under the ambiguous, umbrella term of pollution, which can take many forms, and the effects of which are highly variable. Pollution is an issue because it introduces materials to an ecosystem where they might be previously unavailable, or in much lower abundance, and the subject ecosystem usually lacks the necessary tools to handle these materials. These pollutants are often inorganic, and they can provide a physical or chemical threat to the species they come into contact contacts such as plastic or petroleum.
This can result in a variety of different and often harmful, ecological events because the introduction of artificial or natural, organic or inorganic materials disrupt the continuity of the ecosystem. The species that now inhabit the subject environment are a product of millions of years of evolution, and their predecessors did not evolve with nitrogen, phosphorous, hydrocarbons, plastic polymers, or any common pollutant as a selective force. Waste is an ethical issue because the waste one person produces will have a profound effect on the future of the Earth, much more than will that person’s life, so in the interest of future generations; the waste I produce carries with it equal moral weight.
Nitrogen is an important example, especially in the topic of waste, because the biodegradable, nitrogen-rich, food waste that most ‘environmentally conscious’ people cast aside as harmless is a dangerous form of pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorous, have an especially significant effect aseffectdirectly impacting the composition of an ecological participant known as a foundational species.
This variety of organisms is organismsially important, because they largely define the ecosystem, as they are the most abundant species in the ecosystem, so many species either feed on them or the things that feed on them. The aforementioned organic molecules are highly damaging, because they result in an ecological event known as an algal bloom, which leads to a mass depletion of dissolved 02, and subsequently; the death of the species local to the bloom by asphyxiation. What I have explained, in this paragraph, is a phenomena phenomenon a trophic cascade, and it is one of the many ways in which pollution, in all of its formats an environmental issue, and an ethical issue. But, waste takes many forms, and a great deal of the pollutants that humans introduce are interrelated, such as the plastic container surrounding a pile of fertilizer. This is an interesting phenomenon, especially in the case of the fertilizer bag, because both objects transform after they’re used, “things can suddenly cease to relate to the designs of the human subject” (Brown, Chapter 2). The bag containing the fertilizer is no longer functioning as a bag, and the fertilizer has extended its functionality, but the entirety of the product has been consumed and the waste produced by it is now devoid of use.
There is a secondary ethical issue with examples like fertilizer deposition, and the waste associated with it. The sudden availability of organic, food molecules such as nitrogen lead to algal blooms, which are usually quite massive, and they occur most frequently in rivers nearby new housing developments or industrial activity, like textile mills. This pollution usually takes the form of ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in fertilizer, and the discovery of which is responsible for the Green Revolution of the middle 20th century. This revolution was not one of warfare or breaking free from the bondage of imperial identity, but it was a revolution in agriculture that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in developing countries. This revolution over millions of lives, from one of the greatest global, human problems is starvation and general malnutrition, but this revolution also set the stage for an unprecedented level of waste the world had never seen before. Not only was there now an emerging threat of massive nitrogen and phosphorous deposition but a new, previously unknown issue, an ethical issue; the issue of American food waste. There are three pieces of empirical data about this issue of food waste, such as a 2014 study conducted by Elizabeth Royte that indicated more than 30% of food in the United States ($162 billion annually) isn’t eaten. In a separate study by the University of Arizona in 2004, it was found that 14 to 15% of edible food in the United States is discarded untouched or unopened.
While this immense waste of food is a huge problem in the United States, plastic is by far the most valuable form of waste produced by humans. Plastic is an incredibly resilient, long-lasting material that is discarded after one use, which runs completely contrary to the design of the material and the idea, “Use-time is a time of wearing, emptying, digesting, breaking or exhausting, diminishing time potential until the end” (Viney). Plastic is discarded long before it is broken down or has a diminishing return of use, so it is one of the biggest offenders of this philosophy.
If people learned to reuse more of their plastic products, not only would it have economic effects, but environmental ones as well, both of which would be positive. I have not decided if we will be known, to future archaeologists, as the Era of Nitrogen or the Era of Plastic, as we will probably be remembered by the chemical composition of stratified soil layers, because, “what people have owned – and thrown away- can speak more eloquently, informatively and truthfully about the lives they lead than they ever may”(Viney) and this is true for all of us too. What we have owned and thrown away will come to define us for generations to come, so it quickly becomes reduced to a simple question; do you want to be remembered as the lazy, entitled era of humans that covered the world in the garbage? I know I don’t.