Slashing My Trash
Icky, stinky and gross. And utterly fascinating!
Yes, you read correctly. Garbage fascinates me, but not because it’s pretty. In fact, it’s the opposite.
To see what we use, when we use, why we use, why we toss it, where we toss it, and what we’re going to do about it has garnered my attention since I, at age seven, asked my father: “Daddy, where do they put all the garbage?” I think it has to do with the universal small child’s curiosity about things that vanish. (“Where do they go?”, “Will they come back?”, “Why can’t I see it?”, “See it go bye-bye!”)
Yes, garbage fascinates me, but the time has come to SLASH THE TRASH.
Because it’s TOXIC as H-E-L-L!
In cinematographer Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” (www.thestoryofstuff.com) she aptly says that “there is no ‘away’ anymore.” Everything we toss is now coming back to haunt us in the forms of off-gassing, DNA disruption, cancer and other horrible stuff.
Social justice worker Van Jones (www.vanjones.net)tells us that garbage, plastics in particular, disproportionately affect poor people since those low income folks are more likely to live near a dump, be unable to afford better-made (yet more expensive) bags, tins and methods of storage, and have less education about the subject.
Artist and co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition Diana Cohen tells us that plastic never truly recycles, it only down cycles, never really totally disintegrating, never able to be what it originally once was in its lifetime. (www.ted.com/talks/dianna_cohen_tough_truths_about_plastic_pollution.html)
And homemaker Bea Johnson shows us that we CAN live an elegant, full and sated life without making any garbage at all. (www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com)
Nobody really likes garbage. This is why we throw all that messy stuff away, right? But the problem in the case of garbage, we falsely assume, is that once the nice garbage man in his shiny green (or red or what-have-you) truck pulls away, the garbage mysteriously vanishes into thin air and we never see it again. How lovely! So fresh and clean! We don’t ever have to see our own mess! We are cleansed. We are free. We are not dirty creatures.
Thus “purified”, with our nice, clean and empty trash receptacles, we are okay-ed to make more. Someone else will take it all away.
The sad truth is that it doesn’t go away. It goes to a stinky pile somewhere and sits. Some of it sits for a few years until it falls apart. Other garbage takes several months. And lastly, a lot of garbage takes years or decades to break down. Some garbage never breaks down. There is no away, no magic or person that will absolve us of our garbage sins – we just think we’re purified when that truck pulls away.
Not so. The mess we make catches up to us.
I once lived in a small Colorado mountain cabin where there was no garbage pickup. You took your own trash to town or were forced to live in your own dump-heap. When I was in the Left Hand Canyon cabin, I simply *couldn’t* afford to make much trash. Not only did I not have the garbage pickup, I didn’t have much space.
If I did produce much trash, I was the one who’d have to live with the consequences. This not only included stink and crowding of space (a 450-foot square dwelling is, well… not very big!) but there was the real added problem of vermin: the mountain mice, rats, foxes, bugs, birds, etc., would invade at the least *thought* of human refuse. Believe me, I know… I was there when the mice invaded my space to get at the potato chip bag I carelessly left out on the counter. Imagine the creaking and crackling and squeaking that pulled me out of an otherwise sound sleep… to all the creepies.
So, I learned not to make garbage. Anything that could be burned was burned (a wood stove was my primary heat source) and everything recyclable (which were only bottled and tin cans at the time) were purchased sparingly, washed thoroughly after use, and stored in the fridge until there was enough to take to Eco Cycle in Boulder. Food scraps were buried 3 feet down in a pit 100 yards from cabin. As a result, I only had one small plastic bag of junk to bring into town and dispose of properly.
When I moved from Colorado to the Big City of Seattle, one of my first jobs was at the “dump”, doing surveys for King County on what was coming into the transfer station, with whom, and when. A part of our training for this job was to just tour the transfer stations, the in-city go-between dumps where the stuff from smaller trucks is piled together until it can go into a bigger truck and the other part of the training was to actually tour the King County land fill.
All I can is one word: YUCK. (Have any of you ever been to a landfill? And walked around in it?)
A small bag of garbage sitting in your kitchen is not that offensive. It’s smaller than you are. Two cans are still smaller that you are. Thus you still feel powerful and in control. You fantasize that you can squish the bags into a small, invisible pile and no one will know about all the stuff you bought you didn’t use, or the spills you made that you covered up or how careless you really are in handling your household things that are now broken and robbed of their usefulness prematurely.
However, a hundred acres of garbage is a jaw-dropping horrid mirror of your unclean self. Yes,*you*! *Your* bag of garbage is added up to the guy next door’s garbage that is added to all the people on the next block’s garbage, added to the next neighborhood’s trash, added to the whole north end of the city, and on and on until the reality of your dirt-a-tude has become this plastic-enchoked, smelly blob that is thousands of times your size and that, if you fell over the land fill fence, indeed has the possibility of suffocating or poisoning you. That is, if you don’t rot first, which, given the lack of bio-degradability of the majority of junk we modern humans toss out, is going to be the rule rather than the exception – humans decompose. Plastics do not… at least for a thousand years.
And guess what! *You* started that garbage by just throwing out one small cookie wrapper. Why didn’t you make the cookie yourself at home from scratch and store them in a re-usable tin?
So, here is the question: why are we so in love with garbage that we make it at all? What would happen if there were no shiny green trucks to take it all away and “sanitize” your crap? What if you had to live, day in and day out, within your own messes? Would you continue to buy all the over-packaged, over-processed, and cheap stuff? Or would you think that maybe you should stop and see about actually fixing something that is broken, not buying everything new, cooking more at home, swapping and sharing items, and many more ideas?
I began the current phase of my cutting my trash in half challenge in 2009, when I traded my weekly 32-gallon city-issued garbage can for a 12-gallon garbage box. This forced me to cut my weekly trash by two-thirds. For two years now, that has been my weekly output, with few exceptions, like the three or four weeks of my basement and kitchen remodels when there were overloads of non-recyclables that had to go and, yes, the infamous holiday seasons.
But now I want to go further. I want to cut my trash yet again – and put the TWELVE-GALLON BOX out only ONCE A MONTH.
What this means is that I will have to be super diligent about recycling and composting EVERY LAST THING that can be recycled and composted. No cheating when the recycling bin is full and tossing those last two yogurt tubs in the regular trash. No getting yucked out by a particularly messy cooking job and cussedly throwing the food mess out in the trash rather than the compost bucket. AND REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF ITEMS PURCHASED that are packaged in non-durable, single-use PLASTIC.
The First Two steps won’t be that hard. But the third…oh, yippee-yi-yay… that’s going to be HARD. Please follow my progress as I post new blogs about “kicking the plastic habit”…
P.S. I am lucky to live in Seattle. Our emerald city recycles and composts over 60% of its trash, and is on its way to 70%. We have city-issued recycling and compost/yard waste bins. They make it so easy. Can I make it easy?