Skip to main content
David O. Mckay Lectures

There Is No Away

Following the completion of his Ph.D. at the University of Utah in 1966, having previously received both the B.S. (1960) and M.S. (1962) degrees at that same institution, Dean M. Andersen came to Laie as a faculty member of Church College of Hawaii in biology in 1966. Since joining the faculty, Andersen has engaged in postdoctoral work at several other universities. Among the first group of missionaries dispatched to Korea, Andersen had also served in Korea during the Korean War. Ecology, the subject of his McKay lecture, the nineteenth to be given, exhibits his ongoing efforts to keep abreast of recent developments in his field. Besides his support of the Kahuku Hospital as a member of its board of directors, Andersen has faithfully filled a number of Church callings, including service as a campus bishop. Married in 1961, Andersen and his wife Beth are the parents of Gregory, Karlene, Jeanine, Duane, and James.

I. The Scriptural Charge:

And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth. . . . I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest. . . .And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit. . . .And the earth brought forth grass, every herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit. . . and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good. . . .And I, God, said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl which may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. . . .And I, God, created great whales, and every living creature that moveth. . . and I, God, saw that all things which I had created were good. . . .And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind, and it was so. . . and I, God, saw that all these things were good.And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air. . . and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. . . .And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good. . . .And I, the Lord God, took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it. (Moses 2: 1, 11-12, 20-21, 24-28, 31; 3: 15))

The Lord God created this earth and all things that are in it and he pronounced them good. He created man, Adam, and gave him certain charges concerning this earth.

He told Adam to multiply and replenish the earth, to subdue it, to have dominion over every living thing, to dress it, to keep it, to take good care of it (Moses 2: 28, 3: 15).

Much emphasis is given to the first of these charges, to multiply and replenish the earth, and we are often reminded that this charge has never been revoked and that it pertains to us today. This is true. To my knowledge, the other charges also have not been revoked and they also pertain to us today.

Sometimes man has used the charges of subduing and having "dominion" as an excuse or justification to exploit, to plunder, and to pollute the earth and the living things. What do these terms "subdue" and "dominion" mean? And what is our responsibility?


Hugh Nibley, in his book Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless (1978), has said,

lordship and dominium are the same thing; the responsibility of the master for the comfort and well- being of his dependents and guests. . . . [H]e is not a predator, a manipulator or an exploiter of other creatures, but one who cooperates with nature as a diligent husbandman.The ancients taught that Adam's dominion was nothing less than the priesthood. . . with the understanding that 'from this time forth, man must work to improve the earth and preserve and take care of all that is in it, exactly as God had done before.' (88)

Man's call to dominion then is a "call to service," not a call to "exterminate" (Nibley 96).

II. How We Are not Following the Charge:

As a people we have done a fair job of multiplying and replenishing but have been negligent in following the charge of dominion over the living things of the earth. There are a multitude of examples of unrighteous dominion available. All we have to do is look around. But for today I will choose one example--the care of our waste materials.

This brings me to the title of my presentation, "There Is No Away," taken from a longer statement which says, "You cannot throw anything away, there is no away." 1

Matter cannot be destroyed. It may be changed in its character, but everything must go somewhere. "There is no away." There are many places that we mistake for "away."

Some of my neighbors mistake my yard for "away," resulting in a clutter of cans, pop bottles, candy wrappers, and other assorted rubbish.

We mistake our streams, our lakes, and our oceans for "away," filling them with garbage, sewage, oil, trash, and toxic chemicals, resulting in a spread of disease, stagnation, eutrophication, death of aquatic life, and creating an environment of filth and destruction.

We mistake our atmosphere for "away" as our automobiles, factories, smelters, power plants and construction projects pour into it clouds of dust, smoke, fumes and gasses which threaten our lives, our health, our crops, our forests and wildlife, our buildings and even our art treasures.

We mistake our lands, our roadsides, parks, beaches, empty lots, streets and mountains, for "away," filling them with garbage, trash, automobiles and noxious chemicals which breed death, filth, disease, flies, and rodents, making them unsightly and unsafe for our use. Walk any street, any mountain path, any beach in Laie. Where is "away"?

Names such as Three-mile Island, Love Canal, acid rain, oil spill, killer smog, and many others have become a regular part of our vocabulary.

The "waste" output of a city of one million people is about 500,000 tons of sewage per day, 2,000 tons of refuse per day (garbage, trash, rubbish), 950 tons of air pollutants. We have become a people of "No Deposit--No Return." The affluent nations are using more and more energy to convert more and more matter to waste as fast as possible. All of this must go somewhere. There is no "away."

These pollutants in our environment damage our property, they destroy our plant and animal life, they injure our health, they alter our genetic and reproductive abilities, they cause major ecosystem disruptions and they insult our aesthetic values.

René Dubos has stated, "Man will not long continue to be interested in space acrobatics (or anything else) if he has to watch them with his feet deep in garbage and his eyes half blinded with smog." 2

III. What Can Be Done?

Let us again return to the scriptures. In Proverbs 6: 6,9 it states, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard: consider her ways, and be wise. . . . How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?"

I will not pretend that Solomon had anything in mind other than using the ant as an example of industriousness to a slothful son, but still there is an appropriate message applicable to our topic: "Go to Nature."

Let me paraphrase the scripture for my own use: "Go to 'Nature,' thou --[and here we can insert a variety of terms--foolish, wasteful, ignorant, proud, haughty, wicked man--thou polluter, despoiler, exterminator]--consider her ways and be wise--[survive--repent--live the abundant life]."

IV. What Is the Way of Nature in Waste Disposal?

Let us take a look at wastes in a natural environment or ecosystem. The general pattern of the ecosystem is that of (1) cycling of the materials, but with (2) a one-way flow--a continual input and continual outflow--of energy. The flow of materials is from the nonliving environment to the plant life, to the animal life, to the decomposers and back to the nonliving environment. Matter is used over and over again. Energy enters in the form of light energy, travels through the ecosystem in the form of chemical energy and exits in the form of heat energy (figure #1):

Figure # 1. Nutrient Cycling and Energy Flow in an Ecosystem.

Now let us examine a specific element moving through this ecosystem--carbon (figure #2):

Figure # 2. Carbon Cycle

The carbon is cycled and recycled. The waste materials from one group become the essential nutrients to another group. The end products of plant metabolism, organic material and O2 become available as animal nutrients. Plant and animal "wastes" and debris become nutrients for bacteria and other organisms of decay. "Waste" products from plant and animal respiration and bacterial decay become plant nutrients to be used over and over again. The ecosystem and nutrient and energy flow are vastly more complicated than is shown here but the general pattern of elements cycling through the ecosystem is the same.

The total amount of matter on our planet, for all practical purposes, is fixed. The chemicals necessary for life must be continuously cycled and recycled through the ecosphere.

A natural ecosystem maintains its overall stability and balance by three main mechanisms:

    Controlling the rate of energy flow through the ecosystem. Controlling the rate of chemical cycling within the system. Maintaining a diversity of species and food webs so that the stability of the system is not seriously affected by the loss of some species and food links.

Major problems that can occur within the ecosystem result from:1. Disruption of the essential chemical cycles bya. Breaking the cycle, such as transporting material from one ecosystem to another.b. Changing the rate of cycling. If the rate of consumption, assimilation and respiration exceed the rate of production, malnutrition and starvation, we commonly describe the situation as an "energy crisis."c. Introducing manmade or synthetic chemicals into the cycle. These do not decompose but are left to accumulate. Often they are toxic and their toxic effects are magnified through food chains.2. Another problem can occur by disrupting the energy flow through changing the nature of the atmosphere to alter the solar energy input and by increasing the heat build-up by too great an energy use.3. Another category of problems can be caused by reducing the diversity of species and food webs.

Let's use a specific example to see how this ecosystem disruption occurs and to explore an approach to how this disruption can be reduced. There are [more] numerous examples than can be used but I will choose the disposal of human and animal digestive and excretory wastes, commonly referred to as manure.

These wastes are not commonly recycled within the ecosystem where they are produced but are usually transported from one ecosystem to another and generally from a terrestrial ecosystem to an aquatic one. Water is a favorite place for disposing our sewage, going on the basis that a flowing stream takes these wastes out of our immediate environment, or, if we put a little bit of sewage into a big body of water, it is diluted to the point that it is non-harmful. This thinking has some obvious flaws.

This displacement of materials from the terrestrial ecosystem into the aquatic system disrupts the chemical cycling in each with resultant damage to both. It creates:

      A need for the replacement of lost materials in the terrestrial system. This is often accomplished with manmade fertilizers--but not without problems. A pollution of the aquatic ecosystem with a burden of added nutrients. This is accompanied by: the spread of disease, O


    depletion resulting in death of the aquatic organisms, and the overproduction of undesirable organisms. Pollution does not necessarily reduce the quantity of life, but the quality of life is definitely affected.

What can be done with these animal wastes other than dumping them into the most convenient body of water?


Manure is burnable. There are more people in the world today who use cow manure for fuel than there are who use natural gas. The Primary song which talks about pioneer children gathering chips for fuel is not talking about wood chips but about buffalo manure (Lyon). The thoughts of barbecuing a steak or teriyaki chicken over a pile of burning chicken manure may not be too aesthetically pleasing, but there are other ways to use manure for fuel.

Manure can be converted into a gas (methane) which can be used to meet some energy needs. A man from England uses pig manure converted to methane to run his automobile. It has been estimated that the daily output of manure from six pigs, when converted to methane, will meet the heating and cooking needs for an entire family. If six pigs can do this, how about six children or six dormitory college students?


Animal manures have been recognized for centuries as valuable fertilizers for crops. They are not as high in plant nutrients as are the commercial fertilizers but they are good and can be used profitably.

Author Ray Bradbury in his book Dandelion Wine (1957) has said, "If your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is of course what horse manure has always been about." 3

Food Chain:

In our current methods of sewage treatment, we feed our wastes to bacteria and then kill the bacteria. With this system we can protect our health and decrease the pollution of our environment, but the waste continues to be waste. This is analogous to feeding grain to hogs and then killing the hogs without using them for food. Can we introduce these wastes into a food chain which would result in food for man, such as using algae to clean up our sewage and then harvesting the algae as food for fish, food for cows, or food for chickens? These animals we can eat.

Do we view our sewage as "solid waste" or "wasted solids"?

The list of examples could go on and on, not only for human and animal wastes but also for many products which we now view as "waste."

Two overall approaches to the solution of waste disposal problems suggest themselves: an input approach and an output approach.

The input approach suggests that we use less but that we use it better. We are fantastically inefficient in our use of energy and matter. Using less but using it better results in a decrease in our disposal problem with a decrease in pollution without sacrificing our standard of living. Learning from nature does not imply that we return to a form of life where we exert no control on nature or where we are completely at the mercy of our natural environment.

The output approach to waste disposal involves rendering the wastes innocuous and recycling them. This needs to be done not just on an individual basis but as a national or even a worldwide policy.

This perhaps has been a simplistic approach to a complex problem. The problem of waste disposal is complex and requires some complex answers. These complex answers will result from much effort, trial and research. This has not been an attempt to give answers but to present an approach to finding the answers--a direction which we must follow, not just a direction for individuals but a direction for us as a nation and as a world, a direction which we need as we support research and legislation, establish national policy, teach our children.

We need to learn the lessons that nature has to offer us, the laws which govern the balance of nature. For after all, are these not God's laws? And we cannot disobey them with impunity whether through ignorance or deliberately.

Stewart Udall has said, "Earth and water, if not too blatantly abused, can be made to produce again and again for the benefit of all [mankind]. The key is wise stewardship" (qtd. in Miller 60).

G. Tyler Miller has stated, the message of ecology "is not that we should avoid change, but that we should recognize that human-induced changes can have far-reaching and often unpredictable consequences. . . . Ecology is a call for wisdom [and] care. . . as we alter the ecosphere" (95).

The earth does not belong to us but we to the earth. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24: 1). And the Lord has said to take good care of this earth--have dominion over it (Gen. 1: 28; Moses 2: 28). And perhaps someday He will say to us, "Return and report."

As we attempt to take good care of this earth, one concept to remember is: "You cannot throw anything away. There is no away."


1Ed. Note. Diligent research as well as a query addressed to Andersen himself has not discovered the original source of this quotation.

2Ed. Note. Although Andersen quotes this sentence, attributing it to Dubos, an extensive perusal of Dubos' So Human An Animal (1968) did not disclose this particular sentence anywhere in that volume. The passage in content does closely mirror much material in Dubos, however (cf. xi, 11, etc.).

3Ed. Note. This quotation has not been found in Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, although its spirit and content certainly reflect important themes in the novel.
Back to Top

Works Cited

The Bible.

Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. New York: Random House, 1957.

Dubos, René. So Human an Animal. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968.

Lyon, A. Laurence. "Little Pioneer Children."

Miller, G. Tyler. Living in the Environment. 2nd. ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1979.

Nibley, Hugh W. "Subduing the Earth." Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh Nibley. Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young U, 1978. 85-99.

The Pearl of Great Price.