How will we measure one unit of “waste”?
The measurement of waste will be more nuanced than the measurement of carbon. While carbon is carbon is carbon, not all waste is created equally.
This is because waste comes in a huge variety of different forms. Plastic waste, paper waste, food waste, landscaping waste, electronic waste, and on and on.
Let’s just start by comparing paper and plastic bags. It takes less energy and water to produce a plastic bag than it does to produce a paper bag. And it takes less energy to transport plastic bags because they are lighter. And yet, paper is readily recyclable and biodegradable, while plastic is full of toxins, isn’t always recycled, takes hundreds of years to decompose, and has been altering our ecosystem in frightening ways.
And so we can’t simply measure waste by asking “how much is there”? Because avoiding the creation of one pound of paper is not the same, environmentally, as eliminating the creation of one pound of plastic. For an offsetting scheme to be meaningful and effective, several factors will have to be considered on a sliding scale. These factors should include, among others:
- Mass and Volume
- Energy required to create the wasted item
- Water required to create the wasted item
- Other raw materials required to create the wasted item (with consideration to the energy or water required to extract those raw materials)
- Toxicity of the wasted item
- Danger to the environment posted by the after-life of the wasted item
Scientists and physicists with a deeper understanding of these dynamics can put together a system for measuring various types of waste by considering all these factors.