Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What if you had to live with your trash?

A few months back I watch the documentary Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home. In the film, one family decides to store up all their garbage for three months just to see how much stuff they throw out.  After the 3 months and their garage filled with their garbage and recycling, the point is made that our consumer economy produces a huge excess of trash.  In case you haven’t figured it out for yourself, the average American produces tons of garbage!
'Evil blue horse of doom. Weird public art choice for airport.' photo (c) 2011, Amy Gahran - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
If you’ve ever flown into Denver, along with seeing the creepy blue horse, you’ve probably seen the pyramid-shaped landfill just east of the airport on PenĂ¡ Boulevard.  Yep, that’s where some of the trash from this thriving metropolis goes after getting tossed into the trash can, loaded into big trucks, and hauled away, out of sight and out of mind—unless one happens to drive to DIA. 

This is sort of a problem in our society. We can just get rid of stuff conveniently, without ever having to think about the consequences. Now sure, is it better than the Middle Ages where trash and sewage just was tossed in the middle of the street, allowing disease and sickness to run rampant? Of course. But is there perhaps still a better way? I think so—it’s called recycling.

I work for a retailer of composite decking, and we throw a lot of stuff away. I mean A LOT.  Since it’s the slow season and I’m often bored at work, I decided to calculate just how much trash my company has thrown away—and what that might actually look like.  The warehouse I work in is 148’ x 300’ x 19’ approximately—roughly the size of a football field minus the end zones. I asked some of my co-workers, and they approximated that we fill an average of 4 dumpsters of trash each week.  The warehouse is approximately 843,600 ft³ with the dumpster about 83ft³.  So, based on 4 dumpster loads a week for 52 weeks that’s about 17,000 cubic feet of trash a year. If one were to pile up all the trash from the time the business has been open, it would fill nearly one-quarter of the warehouse!  Imagine a pile of trash 19 feet high, to the 25 yard line on a football field!

It's a BIG building!
VERY spacious inside!
Now, one might say, that’s a business in the construction industry and therefore goes through a lot of materials.  I think we’d be surprised by the amount the average household produces in a year as well. I have a trash container which is approximately 24” x 27” x 42” which is emptied once a week.  That container can hold about 15 cubic feet of trash.  If I fill that up every week, which thankfully I don’t because I recycle, that add up to 818 cubic feet of trash!   Two years of trash would completely fill my rather spacious 12’ x 16’ x 8’ bedroom!
'Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers' photo (c) 2011, epSos .de - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Our leaders talk a lot about what kind of world we want to leave our children and grandchildren. Do we really want to leave them a world with huge trash piles everywhere?  There’s much we can do to limit our waste: recycle things like metal, paper, plastic, plastic bags, etc. We can compost our organic waste such as food (Americans throw nearly 40% of food away yearly!) And we could always—GASP!—stop running out and buying stuff we’re eventually just going to throw away. Life is more than just stuff. What matters is our relationships. We can’t take anything with us when we die, so rather than spending all your money on stuff that’s just going to end up in a landfill most likely after you die, invest your time and money in those you love.

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