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Waste, in the sense of wasted time or resources, is a topic that we have discussed in Why This Way, and that we have found to be tricky and nuanced.

The label of an activity, expenditure, or use of time as "wasteful", particularly in the sense of being a "waste of time" can be highly subjective, and can at times mask thinking equivalent to should statements, something that runs contrary to our rules of communication.


Waste and unhealthy thinking

The labelling of resources as being wasted, particularly in the context of wasting time, can be associated with ways of thinking that we consider to be unhealthy.

Waste and "should" statements

When people make a statement like "that was a waste of time" or "I'm wasting my time", they sometimes (not always), upon elaborating, can issue an explanation involving a should statement, like: "I should be doing something else."

All-or-none thinking

Use of resources, especially in the case of time, is rarely completely wasted. The labelling of something strictly as waste can sometimes be an example of overly simplistic all-or-none thinking, which can be associated with unhealthy thinking patterns and poor decision making.

For example, unstructured time, or time to zone-out, can improve a person's ability to focus when the need arises, and a business or organization that attempts to force workers to spend all their time on a structured task, without breaks, will often be faced with lost productivity, as people are not able to focus as effectively without breaks for mental rest.

Sustainability: turning waste into a resource

In many cases, physical substances treated as waste may be usable as a resource. For example, unused parts of vegetables and fruits, including spoiled produce, can be composted and used as a valuable resource, to enrich soil. Plastic, metal,, glass, and paper packaging can be recycled and turned into raw materials for future production.

In some cases, even waste heat can be used for some purpose, such as when a homeless person sleeps over a hot air vent on the sidewalk, or when people plant cold-sensitive plants up against a building where the ambient heat from the building allows them to overwinter in an area where they would normally be killed by cold. Another example would be integrated heating and cooling systems which use heat extracted from refrigerators, air conditioners, or other cooling units, to heat up water or air for places where warmer air or water is needed.

In these cases, the labelling of something, whether a physical resource or a form of energy, as "waste", can result in people ignoring a valuable resource, like raw materials obtained through recycling. In many cases, the disposal of the waste is costly and/or has negative impacts on the environment.