“Let’s say I go to a food court at a mall and eat a meal with a disposable plastic fork. Let’s say I use the fork for five minutes before one of the tines breaks (as always seems to happen) and I throw it out. The fork goes in the garbage and is buried in a landfill. Let’s say this particular type of plastic takes five thousand years to break down. For every minute I used the fork it spends a thousand years as waste: a ratio of one to 526 million, a number so large it’s hardly meaningful to human minds. On a scale that’s easier to fathom, if we compressed the fork’s five thousand years of existence to one year, the fork would have spent only six one-hundredths of a second as an object useful to me.
We can also take into account the millions of years previous that the carbon the plastic fork was made of spent as oil deep underground. In that even longer time frame the useful life of the fork is an imperceptibly short instant sandwiched between a very long time spent in the ground as oil and a very long time spent in the ground as waste. This is true for almost every physical item civilization produces, from cars to computers to fast food containers – they spend many eons in the ground as iron ore or coal or sand, are used a staggeringly short time, and then left as waste for thousands of years or longer.
It’s pretty easy to argue that, from a long-term perspective (and indeed from a short-term perspective), industrial civilization is essentially a complicated way of turning land into waste. It is, in all truth, ‘laying waste’ to the earth.” – Derrick Jensen