Waste can mean a lot of things. It can be the pages and pages of paper we don’t need to print for class, but do anyway. It can be the number of beer cans consumed, crushed and then not recycled on a college campus. It can even be the sheer volume of brain cells we kill with weekend partying.
The eco-revolution of the latter half of the 20th and now into the 21st centuries has done its best to draw public attention toward over-consumption and the environmentally unfriendly practices of Americans. Thanks to the public service efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency, we have learned about recycling, the ozone layer and deforestation from our early years of elementary school and onward. But what we tend to overlook, however, are just how many elements there are to waste.
My summer employment has been a study in contrasts—dividing my time between crafts, field trips and shouting as a summer camp counselor with swimming neck-deep in spreadsheets as a research associate at a strategy firm. While the two are in completely unrelated fields, I’ve actually encountered similar experiences regarding the issue of waste.
Before sounding philosophical on today’s thesis, I’d first like to illustrate my point with a few anecdotes:
1. According to state licensing, when we provide breakfast to our campers, we must give them both fruit juice and milk—even if they don’t ask for it. A camper will say to my face “No I don’t want milk” to which I must smile, pour her a cup of milk and then pour the milk down the drain 10 minutes later when she doesn’t touch a drop.
2. A client of the firm I’m interning with has used our firm for the past four years. The client recently decided to hire a second, almost identical firm, to run focus groups for a round sum of $7,000. The firm returned public opinion results identical to those we had given them months ago through our own research—research done as part of the contract we hold with them under our monthly retainer of $10,000. This client’s funding comes entirely from tax revenues.
When it comes down to it, we experience waste every single day. Our country’s mainframe has evolved from a minimalist governing authority to an unwieldy bureaucratic nightmare operating similar to ‘the machines’ in the film, The Matrix. And the two hardest things to kill on this planet are cockroaches and established bureaucratic institutions.
Moreover, we are living at an interesting crossroads of sociopolitical evolution. Our own government is facing a potential highly embarrassing, financial meltdown due to misplaced ideology, a wave of tea, extreme bipolarity and such political posturing as to even make Lenin a little shame-faced. The ‘get-it-done-now’ attitude our lawmakers ought to be laboring under is being overshadowed by an unhealthy combination of pride, arrogance and ignorance. I could never pretend that hammering out details on something as complex as our national budget and debt-ceiling fiasco would be an easy task. But it’s not as if they lack the tools necessary to work through the problem.
As a greater commentary on our government as a whole, I think it’s important to ask you, future leaders and decision-makers, whether political identification ought to so overwhelm our process of government? Or can we start to recognize that paralyzing party alignment and wasteful decision-making is the fastest way to work ourselves out of a government. The drama and indecisive circulation through Washington is one more example in a seemingly infinite list of wasteful practices that burden everyday life. Though I rarely have a solution to these social jams I so enjoy writing about, I would ask that each of you take a minute to think about ways of shaving waste off your lives. Start small, with recycling paper or carpooling, but someday I hope we can think bigger—like how to fix the red-tape coated black hole our government is hurtling toward. I personally don’t believe in political identification, but what I do believe in are results and action and I can only hope that we see action by the much-anticipated August 2 deadline.