Thomas Edison is often considered the most famous inventor in human history. During his 53-year career, Edison filed more than 1,090 patents. He invented the incandescent lightbulb, the phonograph, and the electric voting machine. And he established the first major research institutions while also playing a major role in the advent of both audio and video recording.
Thomas Edison also invented a truly horrifying talking doll.
If you want to add a soundtrack to your nightmares, click here to hear ghostly audio of Annabelle’s glass-eyed great-grandmother whispering-screaming “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”.
Humanity’s Worst Invention
Humans invented invention. Homo Sapiens didn’t reach the top of the food chain by running faster, climbing higher, or swimming deeper. We got here by inventing the wheel, the ladder, and the scuba tank.
In the past few decades, the rate of invention has skyrocketed. Vaccines have eliminated once prolific diseases like Smallpox (and hopefully will soon eliminate the COVID-19 virus). Airplanes have made it possible to fly across the globe in a matter of hours. And the internet has provided more information than a single person could read in 57,000 years!
And yet, even as we carry supercomputers on our wrists and chow down on cow-free cheeseburgers, we are still stuck living with what may be the worst invention in human history. Worse even than this.
The Invention of Waste
Permanent waste does not exist in nature. Just like money or football, it is a human-made concept.
If the history of Earth was squeezed into one calendar year, the first humans would have emerged a few hours before midnight on December 31st. What we now consider the natural fact of "useless waste" did not come into existence until the industrial revolution, a few seconds before the ball dropped.
Happy New Year! You didn’t show up to the party until a few milliseconds before midnight! (Source)
Prior to humans, the earth functioned as one big recycling plant. The waste of one organism became the food of another. Even today, it takes only a brief stroll through the forest to see the circular economy of nature in progress. A oak tree grows an acorn, the acorn drops and is eaten by a squirrel, the squirrel dies and is eaten by fungi, and the fungi provides fertilizer for the seed to grow into a brand-new oak.
The life cycle of the acorn is not unique. Look at any natural ecosystem and you will see the same cycle of reducing, reusing, and recycling. One thing you won’t see in nature: waste.
34.7 Million Tons of Acorns
Most Americans are not so different from the squirrel in the scenario above. We evolved to find a berry bush and eat every single berry we could possibly stomach, just in case the next bush we find is a month away. We did not evolve to visit Costco every Tuesday, and when we do enter that heavenly warehouse-of-plenty, our squirrel-brain takes over:
“I can definitely eat 48 eggs in two weeks.”
“I hope the sample lady won’t notice me take a 7th taquito.”
“28 pounds of Mac-N-Cheese for $119.99 is a steal!”
A loyal 2050 Smoothie customer
Unlike acorns, however, much of the food we buy today cannot last a year. We end up throwing out spoiled eggs, brown bananas, and wilted spinach. The Natural Resource Defense Council found that a staggering 40% of all food produced in the United States is never eaten, adding up to approximately 20 pounds per person per month, and costing the U.S. Economy $218 billion in losses each year.
Aside from this enormous economic waste, the water, land, and carbon that go into producing uneaten food make food waste a serious threat to our planet. Project Drawdown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions, has identified reducing food waste as the #1 Best Way to prevent global warming of 2 ºC by 2050.
If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gasses behind China and the United States. (Source)
We know that the impacts of food waste are immense, and the potential benefits of waste reduction are vast. But how do we achieve this ambitious goal? If you’ve read this far, then hopefully the solution is clear. We look to nature!
Many of humanity’s most impressive inventions, including bullet trains, wind turbines, and shock absorbers, were made by mimicking the evolved solutions of kingfisher birds, humpback whales, and woodpeckers. To reverse the process of waste, we can use similar type of biomimicry.
Biomimicry in action: The design of the B2 Bomber airplane was inspired in part by the Peregrine Falcon (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Currently, our world is built around a linear economy, where resources are taken from the environment to make products that are used for a while before ultimately becoming useless waste. This is why our dumps are filled with almost-new refrigerators, plastic bags, and a staggering 48% of all fruits and veggies grown in the U.S.
However, for the first time ever, humans now have the resources and knowledge to transition from a linear economy to a circular economy. Circular economies design out waste, using byproducts from one product or process to create inputs for another. Terms like “upcycled foods”, “closed-loop systems”, and “circular economies” sound new, exciting, and even a bit confusing. However, these concepts have all existed for eons in natural ecosystems. Unlike permanent waste, upcycling is not a human invention.
The Circular Economy (Source: European Parliament)
The 2050 Smoothie
Although it may not be as obvious as hawk-shaped jet, The 2050 Smoothie was also designed through a type biomimicry.
We realized that the best way to reduce food waste was to invent a product that tastes as good as berries fresh from the bush, lasts longer in your pantry than an acorn in a squirrel’s den, and is created through a circular process similar to that of almost every natural ecosystem on Earth. With The 2050 Smoothie, we take perfectly good fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted and transform them into a product that delivers the same smoothie you love in a quicker, more convenient way.
From its clean ingredient label to its unique sourcing, everything in The 2050 Smoothie comes straight from nature!
A Pile of Gold
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
In this single sentence, Thomas Edison revealed the hidden secret at the core of all great innovation. Every one of history’s greatest inventors had the unique ability to look at a pile of junk and see it not for what it is, but what it could become.
United Nations researchers project that food production must double by 2050 to meet the demands of the world’s growing population. At The 2050 Company, we believe the key to achieving this monumental task is to transform the way we think about our “piles of junk”.
After all, what is “junk” aside from just another made up word?
This has been the first installation of The 2050 Company’s “The Invention of Waste” blog. Each month, we will take a look at a resource used in the production of the world’s food. We will compare our current system’s use of these resources to the systems in place in the natural world, and explore how we can shift our perceptions and habits to reduce waste, improve lives, and ensure a prosperous future by the year 2050. To follow along with us on this exploration, please subscribe to The 2050 Newsletter by entering your email address in the footer below!