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There's No Such Thing As 'Waste', Only Missed Opportunities

20/11/2016 8:02 PM IST | Updated 24/11/2016 8:54 AM IST
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Rajiv Ramchandra
River Findhorn, Randolph's Leap, Moray, Scotland

Some years ago, a former colleague (now good friend) and I were talking about her husband's travels to Japan for work. They live in Upstate New York and we joked that he was somewhere on the other side of the world under our feet (if we were to tunnel straight through the centre of the earth). It turns out there is a word for the place on the earth that is diametrically opposite to any given point.

Behold, the "antipode"!

A pair of antipodes are two points that are antipodal to each other i.e. are connected to each other by a straight line running through the centre of the earth. It also turns out that Japan and Upstate New York are not antipodal, according to this website. By tunnelling through the centre of the earth from say, Niagara Falls (all practicalities aside), you would emerge somewhere in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles from the southwestern Australian coastline. But I digress.

In that conversation about whether the other side of the world was down from us or if we were up, I said, "There's no such thing as up!" To those of you schooled in mechanics and frames of reference, this might not be a revelation. But in that "a-ha!" moment that emerged out of office banter, we were both reminded of a fundamental truth of life.

Perspective is everything.

Observed at any scale, there is harmony and balance in all life — in the rhythmic cycles and efficiency of our natural world, in the elegance and beauty of celestial bodies, in the precision with which atoms cooperate to form what we call matter. It is difficult to gaze out at the tapestry of all creation and call it accidental or wasteful. Our universe wastes nothing.

But somewhere along the way, we decided to believe in the idea of "waste". I refer to it here in its noun form, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unwanted or unusable material, substances, or by-products". I have a slightly different definition for the word: what humans use as a label when they've become distracted by mistaken beliefs and are temporarily unable to perceive creative potential and honour life and things in all forms.

Consider this — you are holding a gold coin in your hand. An inattentive person (me) bumps into you and causes you to drop the coin into a puddle. Now consider the same scenario playing out but this time, instead of a gold coin, you drop a plastic one. Now ask yourself which coin are you likely to retrieve? Why?

Nothing changed structurally or chemically in both coins from the time they were in your hand to the time they were in the puddle. You may feel more inclined to retrieve one and accept the other as "waste", based on perceived value. But who assigned this value? You did. Or a group of humans collectively did and you and I accepted it without question.

This thought experiment works with all things. It may be harder to accept in some cases because of the momentum of strong beliefs (which are thoughts we think over and over again and subscribe to out of unconscious habit) and the associated emotions.

Sometimes we get so stuck in pushing hard against what we don't want that we miss the point of moving towards and making choices that bring us to what we do want.


There are many materials that are labelled as waste. Many of us (individuals and organisations) are engaged in the important work of identifying what works and what doesn't work, what's harmful for the environment and human health and what's healthy. But sometimes we get so stuck in pushing hard against what we don't want that we miss the point of moving towards and making choices that bring us to what we do want.

In this "what if" space of enthusiasm and discovery lies the creative spark, the "a-ha!" moments that can lead to elegant solutions. They may come in many forms, such as finding alternative uses, or using alternative materials to begin with, or product/process redesign.

Imagine the tremendous implications of applying the wisdom of making choices and moving towards wanted outcomes (instead of pushing against unwanted ones) in the design of policy, investment decisions, R&D and product/process design.

No life is wasted, no material unwanted. They are simply opportunities waiting to be identified, creative potential waiting to be unleashed, solutions waiting to be discovered, motion waiting to carry us to our desired reality.

Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." But don't believe me or Proust. Try it, if you wish, and see what happens!

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