Now that summer has faded away so too has the persistent stench of garbage piled on sidewalks and left out in the sun in major cities across the country. But trash itself isn’t going anywhere.
Managing waste in our cities is a daunting environmental challenge. We dump our trash bags outside, attracting rats and degrading the quality of public space. We collect this refuse with noisy diesel trucks that pollute the air and endanger communities; and we burn or bury the garbage in distant places, contaminating land, water, and the atmosphere.
But waste is not present in nature; it is a human design flaw.
Waste is the product of a linear system: Materials are extracted from the earth, processed and used, often very briefly, before being thrown out. Ecosystems, though, have circular systems: Materials are used and recycled in constant loops.
Take a northeastern temperate forest, what New York City was before it became, well, New York City. Most materials in this ecosystem are circulated seasonally. An oak tree leaf uses the energy from sunlight to create sugar from carbon dioxide and water. Trees use this sugar to grow and produce acorns. Acorns become food... Read more