Throughput, the detritus of creation is one of the hidden costs of doing nearly everything humans engage in. Building a sustainable culture requires, not only identifying, not merely quantifying, but eradicating as much as possible this insidious waste. The skeletal remains of vast ore docks litter the landscape after the boom of mining turns bust, heaps of radioactive waste will remain for hundreds of centuries after the energy they created has been lost to the ages, the industrial sludges contaminating rivers and estuaries may never be remediated, but they must be reckoned with as we grapple our way toward a path to zero. Throughput is the material that we must bring into the process, that enables whatever activity we undertake, but that is either lost or rendered useless as a result of our actions. The part of the “process” that the consumer or customer cannot see, feel, hear, touch or smell.
There are times that descriptions are needed and for those who don’t know the term, this might be a good time to get specific. The heat for a facility that only receives and ships products would be throughput. The wrapping that encloses whatever commodities are consumed during production likewise, is throughput. Even the paperwork that allows us to understand and record our activities is throughput. The air emissions from paint shops and paper coating companies, are part of what is paid for, but immediately become waste. We are most often not aware of these pieces of the puzzling place we find ourselves in. When I began painting, for instance, all of my paint came from a loving parent, my pieces were small and I knew not of the sink and what went on up there, nor did I care if red cost more than brown, I just painted! In the course of a lifetime, we all must face up to the facts, eventually. As my paintings grew, and I learned about sinks, I saw hundreds of gallons of water flushed away at my creation’s behest, emptied countless containers of paint and learned, over time just what this all meant to my acts of creation. Becoming a commercial sign painter made my choices even more critical, because waste cut directly into my profits. The most conservative I can get still yields a bit of waste and some fugitive emissions if I have to use certain paints, but paying attention to what one is doing, and developing a waste not ethic when dealing with materials can go a long way to eliminating throughput. My rough estimate is that when I started as an artist, I wasted more than ten times the materials and cleaning agents that I do today, just because of the different mind-set that I employ during my acts of creation. Be assured that there are few ways to avoid some throughput, unless you can find beneficial uses for each and every thing that makes your creations possible. Many reusable or recyclable items would normally be considered waste. Much has been made of the admonition to use it up, wear it out, but not enough attention has been paid to the area of prevention. If raw materials come with less packaging, paints are more pigment and less vehicle, or if less dangerous waste never needs to occur, are we not further ahead than trying to make things right after the sad fact of pollution has already taken place?
We pay, one way or another. One way, we pay through higher production costs which must be passed on to consumers and this way of doing business leads to a degradation of the quality of the environment and the squandering of resources, most of which are finite. The other way uses creativity and talent, both of which are abundant and renewable, and though occasionally these ways can cost more in time, or planning (again renewable commodities) they will always reduce costs and assure ecological stability and encourage natural systems to retain their integrity. Hippies used to say, “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” Our societies dope is fuel to run our mediated experiences. The automobile mediates the experience of “getting to work” or getting the groceries, taking the kids to practice, “running”errands etc. for millions of Americans each day. As gasoline prices increase, money has less and less significance. Who would mind prices going up at our favorite restaurant or grocery, as long as the goods we bring home costs about the same as a tank of gas? Hippies just based their economy on the joint or the lid. Now, we are living in the oil economy. Think of all the wasted fuel that is necessary to accomplish all the things that we Americans undertake!
Try, for one week, to live without fossil fuel. This time of year it is probably the easiest. Turn off the furnace, the water heater, everything electric (except your computer, or you won’t be able to read this) then the fun begins. Walk or ride bike to work, to the store, to do the necessary errands. Do you live within a short bike from your job? A grocery? Your favorite restaurant? Rest assured, places like that exist. you may just be living in the wrong place…for years I was able to put more miles on my bike than on my car, living as a city dweller who made certain sacrifices for the good of others. I frequently paid a bit more for produce that was locally grown, or organic. In my case, poverty definitely played a part in my adapting to my own environment, but the overall concern was less about staying in shape, losing pounds or developing a sense of community, although all of those things happenned, it was about the ridiculously high price of automobile use. Back then, in the 1980’s, triple A, the American Automobile Association, calculated the cost per mile at $0.42. I figured that with oil company, auto manufacturing and transportation subsidies, as well as the costs of pollution on public health, my own numbers were a bit more than triple. I reckoned $1.50 or so per mile. When I rode my bicycle around the Great Lakes, 4,280 miles, total cost for repairs was under $21, just 1/2 cent per mile! The only throughput I had in my energy budget was the extra calories I consumed on my travels. My best calculations point to roughly doubling my at rest calories. So, I ate twice as much. Still, only about six cents per mile, how can a car compete?
In natural systems there is no waste. If we can emulate that simple fact in out way of life, we will be a long way down the path to sustainability. Looking for ways to live lightly on the Earth, give me a call, contact me on facebook, or let me know if you are free to stop by in Green Bay, Wisconsin for an ecotour. Tony C. Saladino (nine 2 zero) 88 four-222 four.