From the time of the Industrial Revolution wealth and fame have gone to the men who invented machines and processes to eat up the world’s resources of coal, oil and metals. The time may be very close when we begin to reward those who are able to devise ways of using "secondary" materials, the left-overs of industry.

From the very beginning Man has used the materials near at hand. His tools, weapons and clothes were chipped, cut or sewn from the stone, wood or the hides of animals. He did not change the nature of his materials, only their shapes. Thus, when he grew tired of his clothes or they became too worn, he threw them away. The sun and the rain and the passing of time broke them down until they were finally absorbed into the earth.

At some time or other Man became more skillful at making things: he no longer needed to throw away his tools and clothes quite so often. By changing the nature of his raw materials he was able to create more durable versions of natural substances, or substances which were entirely artificial. He made the mistake of making almost indestructible objects. The result, especially in the industrialized world, has been an ever-increasing mountain of rubbish.

What is the most difficult sort of rubbish? Strange as it may seem, plastics are the chief villains even though they make up only one-fiftieth of the total amount of solid waste in an industrialized country. Small as it sounds, this one-fiftieth represents well over four million tons a year of rubbish which is seldom profitable to recycle.

Recycling is the process by which materials are given a second life. Plastic bottles, toys, wrappings and other gadgets are melted down and used to make other objects. Of course, the problem is that it is often much less trouble and far cheaper to produce new products by using fresh raw materials than collecting and treating rubbish, waste and left-overs.

What other ways are there of treating left-over plastics? Destruction is an obvious answer. The main difficulty here is that burning many types of plastics produces toxic fumes while others ruin the insides of incinerators used for melting them. The situation could be made better by a more widespread use of biodegradable plastics which break down after a while under the action of soil and weather like natural materials. Unfortunately, these plastics cannot be used in the construction of buildings or vehicles, for obvious reasons.

By the middle of the eighties we expect to have fifteen million tons of waste plastics per year.

Each year, household rubbish is estimated to contain ten million tons of iron and steel, and fifteen million tons of glass and other usable materials. Naturally enough, people who handle this rubbish expect to do so at a profit. The problem, quite simply, is that the authorities reluctant to spend money on efficient sorting systems — it is cheaper to dump rubbish on waste ground or in an old quarry. Some day there will be no more open spaces and holes in the ground. When that day comes, perhaps local councils and governments will realize that recycling factories, just like hospitals and other social services, have to be paid for because we need them more than we need the cash profit.

The motor car, the symbol of the twentieth century, has given birth to a whole new industry — the scrap industry.

Those bright shining objects built of valuable steel, copper and other materials that begin to fall apart after a few years are abandoned at the roadside, dumped in fields, left to rot in the back streets of our cities. Crushing machines press them into slabs no thicker than 18 inches which are then shredded before being fed into steel furnaces to begin the industrial cycle all over again.

This sort of organized attack on the waste and rubbish in our cities is needed if we are to have fewer worries about the limited resources of our world. The motor car industry and the paper industry have both set a good example, but for sheer imagination it would be hard to beat the solution to the problem as proposed by two American scientists.

According to current scientific theory, the earth’s surface is composed of sections fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. These sections are continually moving up and down. The edge of one section may slide under the edge of its neighbor and be pressed deep down into the earth where it melts. This is a very slow process, normally speaking, but in certain places under the oceans it takes place more rapidly. The solution proposed by the two scientists is that unusable rubbish be placed at such spots so that it would be drawn down into the center of the earth and destroyed. The solution in itself is not really remarkable. After all, we’ve been sweeping the dust under our carpets for generations!




1. Plastics are described as "the chief villains". Why?

2. Why does the writer use the phrase "strange as it may seem" when he discusses what is the most difficult sort of rubbish?

3. What does the writer mean by saying that recycling factories will "have to be paid for because we need them more than we need the cash profit"?

4. What does the last sentence in the article imply?

5. How can you say that it would be hard to beat the solution proposed by two American scientists, "for sheer imagination"?

6. Do you agree with the author when he says that the cars are the symbol of the twentieth century? Why? Why not?

7. Write a letter to your local council, complaining about the waste situation. Try also to give some advice on what can be done to make the situation better.