The Emptiness & Interrelatedness in Recycling

Recycling your materials
recycles your blessings

– Stonepeace

While the modern economic principle of lowering costs and increasing profits seems like a model for economic efficiency, once we factor in the additional costs of environmental pollution, the model no longer works on a macro-economic or societal level. This economic principle only seems attractive when efficiency is measured in sheer monetary terms, with the result that the private sector is perceived as being much more efficient than the public, or government sector.

On the other hand, a Buddhist approach to economics recognizes that any economic enterprise is located in the context of the entire natural universe. Therefore, not taking into account such factors as environmental and social costs appears quite absurd. Economic efficiency must be based on a different principle, namely, that of ‘not wanting,’ which carries with it the goal of living happily in a simple way rather than always concentrating on making more money. For instance, although recycling paper and other items costs time and money and may seem ‘inefficient’ and troublesome, we are ultimately being more efficient by not wasting such products. This is because we recognize that any given product exists in relationship to the Earth and human society as a whole.

One Buddhist entrepreneur in Japan who actualized this principle is Shuzo Nishihara (1884-1965), whose company recycles raw sewage from major urban centers and turns it into fertilizers for farmers. What seems worthless in one context may well be precious in another, and this multi-faceted nature of all things is a key concept based on the Buddhist notion of emptiness and interrelatedness. As all things are ultimately ‘empty’ of a set value, everything, including what is usually considered garbage, can be seen as a precious resource, depending on one’s point of view. Not wasting things is simply an extension of this way of seeing the world. We need to promote a recycling culture that is economically sound instead of a throwaway culture that is neither economically nor environmentally sound. – Shinichi Inoue

How Much is Enough: Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment
Edited by Richard K. Payne
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