Hi folks! My friend Loral sent me a guest post! I hope you enjoy it!
Hello hello! This is a guest post, as you may have already been informed. You probably have not been informed that I’m not actually a writer. I am a garbage worker (excuse me, a “solid waste management specialist” if we’re being all fancy). I agreed to write something before considering what on earth I would write about… not the best course of action maybe, but cest la vie. Since they always say to write what you know, y’all are gonna get a post about garbage today. Buckle up folks, and prepare yourselves for a trip to the life-and-death world of trash!
I bet you thought that life and death thing was hyperbole. It’s not. Garbage is a dangerous and complex industry, both in terms of the people working directly with it and the impact it has on our environment. Your average garbage worker is more likely to die or be injured on the job than a typical firefighter or policeman, albeit less likely to die than loggers or fishermen. So yeah, garbage: more dangerous than running into burning buildings. The more you know. I do a lot of work talking to people to make the job safer – not everything should go in the trash, and people just don’t realize that when they throw something away it doesn’t disappear into the ether. That syringe you put in the dumpster may end up stuck in the garbage-man’s hand. Your batteries could set the trash-truck on fire. Once people know the costs their actions could have they’re willing to make a change, but getting the knowledge out there is hard.
The environmental factors are no joke either; with America producing over 250 million tons of trash every year, we have a lot of garbage to deal with. Where does it all come from? Where does it all go? And perhaps most importantly… at what cost? Right now most of it goes into a hole in the ground. About a third of it (nationwide) is either recycled or composted. That’s a lot of holes in a lot of ground. A lot of resources to bury things, and even more resources to make replacements for those things. Remember: anything, and I mean anything that you ever buy will be garbage one day. And right now two thirds of that ends up in a big pile taking up space for a few thousand years or more. Don’t forget resources! Global warming and carbon emissions is a whole nother rant. Suffice to say recycling saves 40-90% of the energy it would take to make something new, depending on what materials are involved. Then there’s the trees that are cut down or the materials that are mined, and so on and so on. And there’s a lot of stuff we could be recycling. As our culture moves more and more into consumerism and planned obsolescence – think of all those phones with integrated batteries, or particle-board furniture that falls apart in a few years – I expect the amount of garbage we generate to only get bigger. Without a change in course, one of two things will happen. Either we run out of space to put the garbage, or we run out of resources to make things that become garbage.
This is not something most people are entirely comfortable thinking about. I live in Hippyville, California and even our most die-hard tree huggers aren’t entirely comfortable with the subject. We try and put off the problem by putting it on the garbage industry. Garbage companies are increasingly being told to find more ways to recycle more things, compost things, divert more from landfills into more sustainable programs. As we should! My entire job exists to make sure the most damaging things never make it to the garbage truck in the first place. There is a lot that public agencies could be doing to reduce the impact our garbage has on the world. And you know what?
It will never be enough.
That’s the uncomfortable part.
You can’t pin it on the garbage workers. You can’t pin it on the government. Not even on the corporations making all your disposable crap. They all have a part to play, but really, it comes down to you. No matter how diligent we are at diverting waste from the landfill, some stuff just can’t be diverted. As individuals, we are doing the wrong thing. I’m guilty of it as much as anyone else: buying lunch to go and getting a plastic fork with it. Throwing away a ripped-up shirt instead of re-purposing it. The list of indiscretions goes on and on. Being wasteful is built into the very bones of American society; in many ways it is more difficult and expensive to conserve things than to waste them, at least when one only looks at the upfront costs. It requires a significant shift in how we think about things, how we use things, what kinds of conveniences we expect and think we deserve. We can and should put pressure on industries to be responsible for the waste they make, and to protect the environment we all share. But in the end it will come down to each and every individual to make a change in their own lives.
Ahem. Time to get off this soapbox before I fall off. Next time I’ll just write about stuff that goes boom.