This isn’t a post about environmental righteousness. It’s about waste.
When we lived on our tiny side-street in South Philly I was fascinated with how much trash each household could produce, as if the size of the houses and the width of the street ought to have any bearing on how much a single home could waste in any given week.
We generally put out one tall kitchen bag; our neighbors put out three massive, black trash bags. With a garbage disposal and recycling for paper, glass, and basic plastic, it turns out I don’t throw out very much at all.
What doesn’t fit into those categories? Pretty much just used tissues, old guitar strings, dead ballpoint pens, and fuzz from the lint trap in the dryer. The basket in my home office fills very slowly.
Even in our big new house on our wide suburban street we have the least garbage on the block. We struggle to fill our single lonely can. Some weeks it’s not even worth hunting through the house for fodder to fill it with. And, while neighbors don’t have the mounds of garbage they did in South Philly, it’s still always two or three times what we toss.
I think about all that garbage, and where it goes. Then I think about the people who lived on the block in the 90s, the 80s, the 70s, and on back until the houses were built in the 20s. All of their trash, before there were garbage disposals and recycling programs.
I even think about our lonely little trash bag, if it even makes it out to the curb. What if we could only dispose of garbage once a month? Would it change the way we lived? Would our house be cluttered with trash? Even if that yielded only one full can a month, what would we do with those twelve cans a year?
Would we waste less? If we wasted less, would we want less?
I always think I eat too much, buy too much, consume too much – but I don’t leave much evidence on my body, bank account, or curb. I wonder, what is it everyone else is consuming and wasting so much of to create those piles of imposing black bags?
Maybe all my waste is intellectual. If I don’t write for a month, are those saved up words in my head waste or product? Did I put the thoughts to good use or toss them away?
What about you? How do you cut down on disposables in your house? And, do you think your blogging, Facebooking, and Tweeting is a valuable product or something you are discarding?
Questions of what we do with our trash always make me think of Taiwan. They had a very stringent system for recycling, including color coded bags that must be purchased, specific times for specific apartments, and staffed trash trucks that could reject bags if they saw incorrect sorting.
Here are two Freakonomics pieces you might like: