George Mason Law School

Trash talk

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November 16, 2009

2:34 PM

This semester, I have become fascinated by garbage. Trash isn’t talked about, but “too much trash” is an important environmental problem.

This attraction stemmed from two factors. One was my increasing poverty after a summer of unpaid interning. The second was reading “Gone Tomorrow: The Life of Garbage” by Heather Rogers for an environmental sociology class this semester. Rogers describes the history of our current trash situation. She links increasing rates of trash accumulation to our increasing rates of production. As mass production increased around World War II, society evolved to efficiently control the outputs through garbage collection as we know it. This in turn encouraged people to waste more. However, there is much more to it — this is just the bare outline of her book, which I highly recommend.

Before turning this into a paper for class, let me tell you about my own garbage experiences. I have never been one to waste excessively, but on the other hand, I have never been one to collect others’ waste — until this summer! I had no money but needed to fill a room with some furniture. Thus nearly everything in my room is scavenged, and I am proud. My tables are built out of abandoned wood from the side of the road. My shoes are displayed on a wooden loading ramp (used by trucks for delivery), and my earrings dangle off of a wire lattice recovered from my yard.

I have found that it is incomparably more satisfying to find and transform old things into usable items than it is to buy anything. In addition, dumpster diving and the like provide thrills for the adrenaline junkie. Most places, dumpster diving is not allowed (which seems strange to me, but that is the topic of another post!) and therefore has some kind of illicit appeal — for me, anyway. It does take some guts to admit that you’ve been scavenging. Many people seemed to draw away from me after I told them. But that’s where reading Rogers’ book came into play. I don’t feel so bad admitting it now: there is a trash problem. Perfectly good things are being thrown away all the time!

My favorite part of Rogers’ book was her critique of recycling. She said that recycling can be seen as an excuse to produce more and waste more. People are not hesitant to buy something in a disposable bottle, if it can be recycled. However recycling takes a lot of energy and transport, and that energy use could possibly be avoided. Maybe they would not have bought the bottle in the first place if they did not think it could be recycled. Remember the phrase: “Reduce, reuse, recycle?” Rogers attests that people forget about “reduce and reuse.” All I can say is, maybe they just need to have a little dumpster diving adventure.

Just for a fun picture, check out this slideshow depicting some trash floating around the Pacific. It says this “garbage patch” is twice the size of Texas.

Peace & love until next time.

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