Garbage, garbage everywhere

I spend a lot of time thinking about garbage. I don’t mean bad television programs or manufactured pop bands or the latest movie sequels, I mean the household stuff that we deposit in the ubiquitous under-sink canisters, and once a week set out by the curb for removal. I also spend a lot of time thinking about packaging. It’s amazing to me that we actually spend money on packaging for our garbage. Not only that, but there’s high end packaging for our garbage, and it sells! What is the point of buying anything but the cheapest store brand garbage bags? How does Hefty stay in business? This boggles my mind on lonely nights when counting sheep just doesn’t do the job. I also ruminate on the little cardboard box that garbage bags are packaged in. Packaging for packaging for trash, which eventually ends up being discarded in one of the packaging units that it once contained. Layer upon layer of convolution, all for garbage. Someone, somewhere, is sitting at a computer brainstorming new ideas to package garbage, and to market that packaging.

I have a friend who once, on a long car ride, suggested to me that it would be better if everyone threw all of their trash out the windows of their cars. Then, at least, it would be impossible to ignore the amount of refuse that we generate. We’d be accosted by the sight and the stink of it wherever we went. I thought about her idea for a few years before deciding that she might be right.

Last week I did some dumpster diving on a local college campus. I picked up some dinner plates that struck my fancy. The kids move back home when the spring semester is over, and whatever stuff they accumulated throughout the year, they discard in big piles out on the lawn. Dishware, furniture, clothing, “art”, many, many, many ink jet printers. I guess it’s the printers that surprise me the most. Twenty years ago, I think we had a much less cavalier attitude towards disposing of electronic equipment. The stuff was expensive, first of all, and I don’t think the term “planned obsolescence” had come into use yet. But now here we are – buy a new printer at the beginning of the school year, and throw it out 9 months later, because the low cost of replacement makes saving the old one a waste of energy. The upside, I suppose, is that anyone who’s willing to dig through a pile of someone else’s trash will be richly rewarded with the detritus of disposable consumer culture. It is an uncomfortable thing, to browse through someone else’s unwanted goods. I found myself asking what was wrong with me, that I would debase myself in such a way. Was I just cheap? Was it pathological? I have the wherewithal to buy new, so why was I doing this? What does it say about me that I would do this? I don’t have any good answers to these questions, but I think it’s important to do things that make you uncomfortable and confused sometimes. Dumpster diving definitely takes me far out of my comfort zone, and maybe that’s reason enough to do it.

If there was a point I was trying to make with this post, it has escaped my memory.


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