america is extremely wasteful
19 November 2015
America is Extremely Wasteful
The motto “Out with the old, in with the new” has been recycled again and again through generations (Mahenc 22). The motto is often a justification for the various changes infiltrating the society and American lives today. Unfortunately, the rate at which the motto is recycled does not reflect on the speed at which used items are recycled (Mahenc 22). With loads of goods deemed to be broken and useless, America is understandably considered the most wasteful country in the world today. The high rate of wastage in the country has earned the American Society the name “throw-away society.” Following statistics from 2006, America alone produces about 4.7 pounds of garbage on a daily basis (Mahenc 25). This wastage ranges from dumped food to materials that are apparently too worn out to be repaired to items that are trashed for newer, more efficiently innovated ones. This paper takes a broad look at the various sectors of the American economy and the nature of their wastefulness.
This wasteful nature all began after the Second World War when America was in serious need to spur its economy (Mahenc 26). Companies saw it wise to begin a process of as “mass production.” This process refers to the act of producing goods on a large scale to minimize the costs and maximize the outputs. All of these products were engineered to last a short time to give people the motivation to acquire new ones once they broke down or were worn out. The good and the bad thing about this is that buying the new ones was even cheaper than repairing the repairing the old broken down ones. The phenomenon was known as “planned obsolescence” (Mahenc 28).This idea was good because one did not have to worry about the cost of their destructive behavior; in fact it seemed cheaper than recycling or reusing products (Mahenc 30). On the other end of the divide, the idea was wrong because it encouraged the wasteful behavior. It trained the Americans to get rid of gadgets and other items they used rather than repair them or hand them on to people who still require them. A good example of developments that encouraged trashing old things and buying new ones is the entry of Bic Company into the industry (Mahenc 32). Initially, people used to own fountain pens that could serve for years due to the ability to refill its ink. With Bic, one could cheaply buy, use, dispose and buy another ballpoint biro. In essence, manufacturers wanted to make citizens feel less satisfied with any product that was not new or fashionable. Take an example of an old cell phone with no modern features. It works just fine, but nobody wants to possess that in the present America.
Approximately 40% of the food Americans have in their homes and offices is not eaten (Waxman n.pag.). These figures were published in an August 2012 report by the “Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)” (Waxman n.pag.). Most of the food that ends up in a landfill is fresh and rich in nutrients. According to a project scientist at NRDC, the issue does not receive significant attention despite the fact that a substantial amount of freshwater, land and energy is used up in food production. The report also stated that fresh food is wasted in America in the production, distribution and consumption levels (Waxman n.pag.).
A separate study by the United States’ Department of Agriculture confirmed that America wasted nearly 141 trillion calories every year (Waxman n.pag.). This figure translates to about 1,300 per capita calories each day (Waxman n.pag.). The fact that this study utilizes data from 2010 does not make the figures any less astounding. In 2010 alone, around 133 billion pounds of food went uneaten (Waxman n.pag.). This figure represents thirty-one percent of the entire food supply that year. This fraction incorporates the quantity adulterated by pests and some thrown away due to blemishes. The amount of food thrown away is so enormous that if Americans were to cut down on their wastage, the price of food would probably go down within a very short period. If less food is required to feed the population, less investment would be put into it. If the production cost goes down, the price of the produce is also likely to go down (Waxman n.pag.).
In light of all this wastage, it must come as a surprise to hear that some people in America do go hungry. Yes, in spite of the sufficient amount of healthy food available to feed Americans, there is still a portion that goes without food on particular days. Tell this to Americans, they will most likely say that those who go without food are poor people who deserve their suffering. The banquet was serving, and food industry mainly tends to be very egregious when it comes to wastage. After most banquets, whole buffet spreads are emptied right into the bin because of health regulations (Waxman n.pag.). The employees do not have a choice but to trash the voluminous left-overs; they are not allowed to carry it home even if they wanted to. If one would go through trash cans of an event venue once the event is done, what they would find would be bins full of completely good food. Some of this wastage are because the people with the authority to donate the food do not feel like doing so.
Apart from the food industry, the energy industry is another wasteful sector of the American economy (Waxman n.pag.). To be more precise, sixty-one percent of the energy that is produced in the economy ends up being wasted. This percentage is said to be enough to power the United Kingdom for seven years (Waxman n.pag.). Out of the 95 quadrillions (quads) “British Thermal Units” of raw power that was fed into the American economy in 2012, just 37 quads were put to proper use (Waxman n.pag.). The remaining 58 quads disappeared somewhere within the system (Waxman n.pag.). This wasted energy is commonly referred to as “rejected energy.” For decades, most of the rejected energy in the U.S. economy comes from a generation of electricity and the transportation industry. The loss from the electricity generation sector is occasioned by the relative inefficiency of many power plants. From the transportation sector, the loss is because some vehicles’ combustion systems are very inefficient. It is not practical for any power generation plant or automobile to be one hundred percent efficient. The second law of thermodynamics makes it evident that achieving 100% thermal efficiency is not possible (Waxman n.pag.). But 39% efficiency surely leaves a huge room for improvement (Waxman n.pag.).
As if the 39% efficiency is not bad enough, some energy experts argue that this might be inflated figure (Waxman n.pag.). According to these experts, the true energy efficiency in America is somewhere around 14% (Waxman n.pag.). According to one energy flow research team leader, the increased wastage partly results from updated assumptions about the final use of household appliances and vehicles. The energy flow research team estimates the overall efficiency of planes, cars and trains in the United States to be about twenty-one percent and not 25% as previously assumed (Waxman n.pag.). The uses of energy within the household for purposes like lighting, cooling and heating are estimated to be about 65% and not the earlier approximation of 80% (Waxman n.pag.). Holistically, these figures might still be too ambitious compared to the realities of the system (Waxman n.pag.).
In conclusion, America is truly incredibly wasteful. People openly throw away food like it is no big deal. In fact, there are health regulations that prohibit the consumption of leftovers from banquets (Waxman n.pag.). Many single mothers move around in sport utility vehicles that consume a lot of fuels. The rate at which people dispose items is way above the rate at which they recycle them. Sociologists argue that this behavior might be a result of education or naturalization (Waxman n.pag.). However, the validity of this argument leaves more to be desired. There are many successful societies other Western countries that lead a good and educated life with very little wastage. Education or wealth is, therefore, no excuse for the excessive wastage witnessed in the United States (Waxman n.pag.). However, to be fair to the Americans, Affluent societies often waste a lot more than their less wealthy counterparts (Waxman n.pag.). For example, if one has the financial ability to buy a lot of food, there is no motivation for them to eat food that is passed its “best before date,” finish every bit of food on the plate or save it for the future. Another reason American wastage may be that high might be because of the “American capitalism” (Waxman n.pag.). Under the spirit of capitalism, corporations are needed to provide service to their stakeholders with the aim of constant growth (Waxman n.pag.). If one sells a good microwave, it might not need to be replaced for decades, this is not good for capitalist business. The company that sells poor quality microwaves hypothetically makes more money since one would need to replace it over and over again with a more modern one. Marketing is another factor that drives people to buy more than they need (Waxman n.pag.). Once they have more than they need, the surplus is bound to go to waste. To reduce this wastage, Americans would need to rethink their trashing culture. Americans would need to buy only the things they need, and they know that they would use. Recyclable and reusable items must also be recycled and reused as many times as possible to help save the economy some money. On the side of the government, regulations such as the health law that advise against eating of food that remain after meals should be done away with (Waxman n.pag.). Unless austerity measures are put in place and implemented, America remains to be the most wasteful nation in the universe today (Waxman n.pag.).
Mahenc, Philippe. “Wasteful Labeling.” Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization (2009). Print.
Waxman, Simon. “SNAP Decisions ; Photo ID Requirement for EBT Cards Is Wasteful and Punitive.” The Boston Globe 5 July 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
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