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The Landfill And The Factory

October 20, 2013

The two dominant industrial metaphors are the landfill and the factory. Both assume a system open at both ends that can draw on infinite resources. The factory metaphor says: raw materials go in at one end, identical stuff come out the other. The landfill metaphor says: round up all the unwanted elements, throw them in a hole, and pretend they don’t exist any more. In the industrial model, the flow of materials goes like this:

Natural Resources –> Factory –> Stuff –> Landfill

The landfill is the dominant metaphor that we use to deal with our waste, but like the factory metaphor, it shows up in many forms throughout society. The factory metaphor shows up in agriculture (factory farming) and education (factory schooling), as an attempt to mechanize natural and biological processes. The landfill metaphor shows up in hospitals (sick people), prisons (criminals), mental institutions (the mentally ill), and retirement homes (the elderly).

Fortunately for all of us, these antiquated metaphors are on the way out and being replaced by organic metaphors of cycles and flow. Rather than existing in a pipeline between infinite reservoirs, our industrial (and social) processes are part of a natural cycle in which nothing is created or destroyed, it only changes forms, and whatever we create is here to stay with us, until we transform it into something else.

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