An economy is based as much on its modes of extraction and destruction as on its mode of production. Extractive destruction is obvious. In Australia a person only needs to fly over the Hunter Valley to see what happens in coal production… desolation stretching for kilometres in all directions, often hidden from the road so that people won’t see it. Extractive destruction occurs because it adds to profits, and compelling companies to engage in less destruction would interfere with their power and the free markets. If they are not compelled then they will generally leave repair alone, or try and hide the damage. If modes of destruction were curtailed then the economy would be different.
It is useful to distinguish between several types of waste product.
Waste is defined here as products of production which are recycled, or reprocessed into something beneficial, by the economy and ecology within a “reasonable time frame.” What is a reasonable time frame, and what is beneficial, are political questions that may also be affected by the materials involved. The basic idea is that unprocessed material does not accumulate and overwhelm the ecology or economy.
Pollution is defined here as the products of production which cannot be recycled by the economy or ecology in a “reasonable time frame”. Pollution is often disruptive of, or poisonous to, the ecology. It produces non-beneficial change in the general ecology. If there is too much waste then the waste becomes pollution, as with CO2, or Chlorine – Chlorine in small doses can keep water pure by killing bacteria, but in large doses kills bigger organisms. Pollution can also result from attempting to sell new items, as when items are designed to be superseded in a few years, to encourage new buys, and the old product to be thrown out. This pollution is called planned obsolescence, and can lie at the heart of manufacturing strategy.
Dispersion occurs when a substance is dispersed into the ecology and is very hard to re-extract without massive energy expenditure. In most cases the material is lost rather than consumed or transformed. One example is helium. CO2 is similar, as it is dispersed into the atmosphere, and requires the processing of huge volumes of air, and large expenditures of energy, to extract it. We may be excreting most of our phosphorus into the seas which will probably cause large problems with agriculture producing
The reiterated point is that no economy can be accurately described without describing its energy sources, its energy use and allocation, and its modes of Pollution, Waste, Dispersion, Destruction, its power relations, and its distribution of ‘goods’ or ‘benefits’. That includes imagined future sustainable, renewable energy economies.