"A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand."
-Dorothy L. Sayers, 1947
A couple of months ago, I noticed on Goodreads that one of my friends was reading a book called Garbology - Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash by Pulitzer-Prize winning Edward Humes.
I loved the title and after talking to my friend and his wife, they both recommended the book, even though they admitted that some parts could put you to sleep at night because they're so boring.
I got the book from the library a few weeks ago and they were right - some parts do put you to sleep -- but the majority of the book was really quite fascinating, albeit disturbing.
The book examines all aspects of garbage in the US - from how we've
handled trash historically to a landfill owner's perspective to the environmental and economic impact of waste disposal in America. It really is a great book (I'm not quite finished with it, but I cannot stop thinking about it)
I was feeling down in the dumps right after I started reading the book (bad pun, I know . . . but I couldn't resist)
Here are some disturbing facts taken directly from the book:
Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet.
The average American throws out 7.1 pounds of trash per day, 102 tons across a lifetime.
America, which accounts for 5% of the world's population, accounts for nearly 25% of the world's waste.
Plastic bags are still thrown away and last a thousand years or more. In fact, by the year 2000, Americans used 100 billion of them a year, which cost retailers $4 billion, who in turn would pass the cost on to consumers.
America has 4 % of the world's children but accounts for 40 % of the world's toys that are bought and later thrown away.
96 billion pounds of food are thrown in the trash by Americans each year. 4 million people could be fed on 5 percent of that wasted food.
$1 of every $11 food dollars is spent on packaging
The United Nations estimates that a minimum of 7 million tons of trash ends up in oceans each year, 5.6 million tons of which (80%) is plastic.
Humes also tells the story of Bea Johnson, whose family was forced to cut back on "stuff" when they moved into smaller living quarters. This prompted Bea to realize that she enjoyed living with less clutter and less waste. Bea and her family have gotten so good that a year's worth of trash for her household fits in a mason jar!!! She has a blog called The Zero Waste Home, which offers lots of tips on how you can reduce your waste and live a greener lifestyle.
Only a few pages into the book and I found myself examining our trash each day, trying to figure out what exactly was being wrapped in plastic and sent off to a landfill out of site each week.
I started noticing everyone's garbage piled along the side of the road on trash day and how we don't stop to think about where its going or what impact it will have on the Earth.
I found myself going to the butcher at the grocery store and asking for our meat to be wrapped in paper, rather than grabbing the more convenient pre-packaged meat in the cooler that has a Styrofoam base.
I found myself consciously bringing reusable bags to the grocery store.
And when it came time to buy Imani a new lunch box for school, she said, "I think we might be able to just clean up my old one mom. Isn't that what the book you're reading is all about?"
This, coming from my child who always wants everything new?! I was shocked. It just reaffirmed that she's watching me and taking notice all the time.
And it made me grateful we live in Ithaca, where being "green" is cool and is encouraged; where our schools teach kids to compost in Kindergarten.
I know I can be better about what I'm buying and bringing into our home. I would like to start shopping at second hand stores more. We're good when it comes to buying second hand for decorating but we could be better when it comes to our clothes/personal belongings. What's funny is that I used to shop at the Salvation Army for most of my clothes when I was a single mom. When I got a more lucrative job and was married, I began shopping at more popular, more expensive clothing stores.
The funny part is that my friend Lori said to me recently, "When I first met you, you had such a unique sense of style. You always looked so cute and fashionable."
When I questioned her further, she said "I mean, now you look nice too but you just look like everybody else."
I don't want to look like everybody else! And I don't want to keep buying and encouraging the cycle of waste.
So here are some of my plans:
I will continue to look at our trash to see how we can be better at refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling.
I will buy less and I will try to buy used more often.
I will bring reusable grocery bags to the store and if I forget, I will buy a reusable bag (or go without).
I will try to give "greener" gifts.
I will not buy plastic bottles of water.
I will continue to compost and learn how we can be better at it.
I will not use plastic utensils at barbecues/cookouts at my house.
That's a good start, right? What about you? What are you doing to stop the cycle of waste?
"Here's the main lesson of Garbology: People forget, they cover, they kid themselves, they lie. But their trash tells the truth." - William Rathje
I challenge you to read the book, check out Bea's blog, and examine your own trash.
What's it telling you?