I learned about recycling from my mother. Dad was the inventor of the family, who bought what he needed to build what he wanted and then threw away the scraps. Mom just wanted the place to look clean so she could find the scraps she had saved in hopes that one day a thing once destined for the town dump would find usefulness in some new endeavor.
Like the time a nut needed to be removed from a bolt so the bolt could be removed from a steel plate on which once had been mounted a gasoline engine and a water pump. Dad had assembled the entire conglomeration to pump water from the lake and spray it over our family garden.
Long after the gas engine, water pump and Dad had aged out, that steel plate remained awkwardly piled in one corner of the garage, unable to lie neatly unless the bolt could be removed. Alas, it was frozen in place by rust that should have qualified for an appearance on The Antiques Roadshow.
Laws of physics involving fulcrums and foot-pounds, and Mom’s decision to straighten up the garage one day when I’d rather have been searching for critters in the hundred-acre wood, decreed use of a large vise, a pipe wrench and a two-foot length of pipe Dad would have long ago heaved.
Recycling is not a new thing. The piece of pipe made the wrench handle longer, providing the leverage to remove the bothersome nut.
We humans have three distinct stages of invention.
Stage 1. We find a need and invent or convert something to fill it. Sometimes, we reverse the process, and come up with an invention, then find uses for it. John D. Rockefeller was an oil man who made kerosene, which was useful for streetlights but resulted in a byproduct for which there was no purpose. J.D. poured the gasoline in nearby streams.
Stage 2. We discover the product doesn’t last forever, then dig a hole and bury it. Last week I read of used windmill blades being buried in landfills in Wyoming.
Stage 3. We discover a use for the waste, dig it back up and sell it to people who may previously have scavenged it for free. A mill where I once lived made wooden dowels and dumped the broken pieces in waste piles where area residents would collect them for kindling to start winter home fires. Having discovered value in the waste, the mill owner began charging for bags and boxes of the scraps of busted wood.
We invented gasoline engines and put Mr. Rockefeller’s waste to use and profit. There may someday be a market for used windmill blades.
The uses we have for carbon dioxide and methane are so far insufficient for the amount of the gases we are producing. So far, not much has been said about the pollution potential of solar panels. Wind turbines have an operating life of at least 25 years.
As I sit watching the lives of trees, it occurs to me they are immortal. They live as those big leafy things; die, if we give them chance, and yet still provide homes for human-edible fungi, macroinvertebrates and numerous other critters. Eventually, they decay into the ground, providing an anchor point from which they reincarnate to become those big leafy things.
We humans are a long way from matching that kind of recyclative performance. There is plenty of evidence that burying our unneeded parts and byproducts is not the most efficient way to solve the problem.
And very little of it can be used as a wrench handle extender.
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