What Is Waste?

You can waste a lot of things. Time. Energy. Potential. In addition, we produce several different kinds of waste. Environmental. Biological. Toxic.

But what exactly is it? By one definition, it is a substance that is not useful in a particular context. For example, a cell in our body takes in oxygen, and after metabolic changes, produces carbon dioxide as waste. The cell doesn’t need it. The carbon dioxide is taken by our blood stream to our lungs, where it is expelled as exhaust.

But while that carbon dioxide is not needed by our cells, plants need those molecules for growth. In a different context, our cells’ waste is not waste at all.

This cycle is repeated throughout the natural world. What is considered useless by one organism is a valuable resource for another.

So does that mean that waste is simply a matter or perspective? If there is a substance that one being considers useless, is it possible to find another that will make use of that material? Or are there some things that simply cannot be used in any other context?

In addition, there are the other definitions of the word waste. If I waste my time, that time is not a resource that can be retrieved by someone or something else. It is simply gone. Similarly, if an person wastes their potential, that isn’t a resource that is available to others.

Is there a common element to these two different uses of the word waste, between the ephemeral, like time or talent and the corporeal resource, like oxygen or carbon dioxide? In short, is it is just the same word being used for two different concepts?

What is waste? How should we think about our waste? How can we reduce it? Is waste ever useful and desirable?

Related questions: What is the value of inefficiency? What do we owe the future? How do you define success? What do we do about plastic?